No Nene, No Problem. So How Free Should the #FreeNene Movement Be?
Be warned of pink elephants that aren’t actually in the room. The Wizards are clearly not better without Nene. But should he return to the starting lineup when his team has achieved more with Trevor Booker? Good question. Maybe we can answer.
Before Game 4, we took a peek at Wizards lineup statistics, which are only one glimpse of the big picture (also via small sample size syndrome). Lineups featuring Nene along Gortat, especially the starting lineup, haven’t fared so well against the Bulls. Gortat has played better next to Booker. Nene has played better next to Booker. And the numbers show that the Brazilian-Polish duo have an overall negative effect on the score when paired—a plus/minus of minus-9 over 68 minutes.
Facilitated by Nene’s preference to not play center, both became bosom-buddies upon Gortat’s arrival via trade just prior to the beginning of the season. But while capable of being complementary (they were plus-10.5 per 48 minutes on the court together during the regular season), Nene and Gortat sometimes get in each other’s way.
In this series, Carlos Boozer has been a tough defensive matchup for Gortat. Many Bulls followers (and media) seemingly want to see Taj Gibson in the starting lineup over Boozer (3-for-7, eight points, eight rebounds in 24 minutes on Sunday). But when Boozer has Gortat guarding him, he’s 11-for-20 from the field over four game. Against Booker, Boozer is 2-for-7 and against Nene he’s 1-for-6 on field goals.
- Nene and Gortat are minus-9 over 68 minutes on the court together during the series against the Bulls and allow 110.8 points per 100 possessions (DefRtg) while scoring 102.2 points per 100 possessions (OffRtg).
- Nene and Booker: 35 minutes together, plus-6 in plus/minus, 93.8 DefRtg of 93.8, 101.0 OffRtg.
- Gortat and Booker: 56 minutes together, plus-14 in plus/minus, 99.3 DefRtg, 112.0 OffRtg.
- Washington vs Chicago (four games): 104.2 DefRtg, 107.9 OffRtg.
Offense is not necessarily the problem for the Nene-Gortat duo. Although, without Nene, each Wall and Beal have a more open floor to run pick-and-roll or dump-off action with Gortat. With Nene, the Wizards have more of a back-down post threat, who’s a better passer than Gortat (although Gortat is a smart passer, too). And when Booker is on the court with either player, he generally operates in non-scoring areas, allowing either Nene or Gortat to do their thing.
The defensive struggle is real. Nene and Gortat are 2.9 points worse defensively (per 100 possessions) than the team average against Chicago through four games. When Gortat is on the floor with Booker instead of Nene, the Wizards allow 11.5 fewer points per 100 possessions. When Nene is on with Booker instead of Gortat, the Wizards allow 17 fewer points.
But does this mean Booker, and not Nene, should start Game 5 in Chicago on Tuesday? Not exactly. Calculators can’t coach because they can’t compute for that human element. In this instance, the ego of Nene. Having been suspended, having let down his team by losing his cool against Jimmy Butler, Nene’s pride will want to be in that starting lineup and make an impression. Randy Wittman should also prove the point that Washington can continue to impose their will on Chicago. The Big Brazilian’s 41 points on 30 shots with 15 rebounds and six assists in 75 minutes over Games 1 and 2 can’t easily be forgotten.
Wittman called the 22 games Nene missed from February to April a “blessing in disguise” after the Game 4 victory. “[Trevor Booker] started all those games. There wasn’t any worrying of mine of sticking a guy that has to now start in a playoff game with that deer-in-the-headlights/worried look that you might think because one of your main guys is gone. No, Book did it for 22 games when [Nene] was gone.”
Which reminds us to not take away from Trevor Booker, whose play is a major factor when evaluating numerical and eye-test indicators of Nene’s time in the starting lineup. “Book” has averaged 7.6 rebounds over the three wins but pulled down just three in the Game 3 loss. His energy and intangibles have made more than an impression—eight points, nine rebounds, three blocks, and six fouls 28 minutes on Sunday is that Charles Oakley-type of toughness needed from him. Booker will get his story told.
Aside from the fact that he was a bit of a deer in the headlights in Game 1 (off the bench), Booker can be a factor at any stop along the rotation. So the answer isn’t necessarily for Nene
to come off bench (remember, psychological reasons), but the coaching option could be to put Nene back on the minutes-limit schedule, which means earlier exits in the first and third quarters. Had he not been ejected, his minutes average through three games would have been over 36.5, which is almost seven minutes more than his regular season average. Nene fouled out in the first two games, was ejected in the third, and sat out the fourth. At some point the Wizards will need him around when the buzzer sounds (and thus rest on the Lord’s day via suspension also might have been a blessing in disguise).
Free Nene? You bet. He’s a damn good problem to have. And if the Wizards want to lock down this series in five games, his back to the basket game, offensive vision, and defensive IQ will be a must against a Chicago team desperate to avoid ‘Gone Fishin’ Photoshops on the cell walls of summer.
Defensive Two-Man Combos: Opponent Shot Charts.
Notes: Bulls haven’t shot as well at the rim against Nene and Booker (52.9%) as Nene and Gortat (61.2%) and Gortat and Booker (60.0%). Against Nene and Gortat, 43.7% of Chicago’s field goal attempts have come at the rim but just 36.1 of Chicago’s attempts come from the same area when Booker and Gortat are on the floor.