Hi, Haters: In Defense of Nene | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Hi, Haters: In Defense of Nene

Updated: January 14, 2015

(AP Photo/Don Ryan)

Nene: love him or hate him, he’s not going anywhere till the summer of 2016. That’s a good thing. Probably.

By the numbers, he’s clearly a “plus” player on both sides of the ball. Nene leads the team in NetRtg, and it’s not even close: 11.7.

Wizards during Nene’s 734 minutes:

106.4 OffRtg
94.7 DefRtg (team-best)

Wizards without Nene for 1,057 minutes:

102.2 OffRtg
104.9 DefRtg

Wizards overall:

103.9 OffRtg
100.7 DefRtg

It’s true: Nene has a) sometimes settled for more jump shots to prevent wear-and-tear, and b) sometimes not been able to finish at the rim without healthy legs.

But, facts only, Nene’s midrange game hasn’t dropped off at all. He made 43.3 percent of his midrange Js last season and is sinking them at a 43.2 percent clip this season. And, perhaps of greater importance, his FG% within five feet has even increased a bit, from 62.1 percent to 63.6 percent. The big Brazilian is even scoring a greater percentage of his points in the paint: 54.4 percent this season, compared to 52.3 percent in 2013-14.

And, to his credit, he still has enough bounce in his boots to rattle rims and crush confidence.


Nene’s OffRtg tops that of every Wizards player.
Yes, better than coast-to-coast champion John Wall, walking hook shot Kevin Seraphin, foreign-made mechanized scoring weapon Marcin Gortat, and effective midrange enthusiasts Kris Humphries and Paul Pierce.

Nene’s DefRtg is also better than the rest of his teammates’.

While all of the above is positive, clearly, and certainly enough to justify the $12 million yearly rental fee, TAI’s Chris Thompson hasn’t been too impressed. “Guys, Nene has been pretty lousy on offense far too often this season,” he tweeted earlier this season during the game vs. Minnesota.

But not so fast, I said. His defense pays the electric bill.

Thompson didn’t disagree (smart lad), but did note that it might not be the wisest move to relegate Nene to the “already offensive challenged second unit,” which was the case earlier this season due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot.

How would Thompson use Nene? I’ll let him answer that:

Chris Thompson: I think it suits the organization to acclimate Humphries to a starting role. Potential free-agency coups aside, he’s the most credible, dependable option as a future starter alongside Marcin Gortat. Sooner or later Nene is going to fall off, and probably not in a gentle music-box-winding-down sort of way, but in the my-hand-me-down-’81-Volvo kind of way: all at once, and with a grimly spectacular and unmistakable permanence.

(They’re still scraping the charred remnants of that Volvo off the asphalt of a McDonald’s parking lot in Alexandria, all these years later.)

But! Right now, Nene’s skill-set broadly suits what the Wizards do best, when they do it best: space the floor, move the ball, find cutters, and [gulp] work the midrange. He and Gortat have a detectable chemistry working in high-low situations, and Nene’s screens and hand-offs are some of the best in basketball.

It boils down to this: Right now, Nene is a hugely important part of Washington’s defense, and the fluidity and chemistry of Washington’s starting group suits him and benefits from his presence. “Playing with the bench Nene” is miscast as a guy who can salvage possessions from the block, and that’s just not his game. He’s a bull down there, to be sure, but he likes to palm the ball and survey the floor, and he’s just not a natural scorer. A bench unit with Humphries down low can scrap for points and battle to a draw for 12 to 20 minutes a night. A starting lineup with Nene soars, and that’s where the game is won or lost.

And that’s exactly the point: Nene is, quietly, a very, very good frontcourt player. This is true in whatever capacity he’s being used—as a starter of coming off the bench. But Thompson is right: Starting Power Forward Nene is a force to be reckoned with.

The five-man unit that features Nene alongside the rest of the starters, a lineup deployed by Wittman in 15 of 37 games this season, has one of the better plus/minus ratings in the league this season (min. 10 appearances). It ranks sixth at plus-4.3. The two-man unit of John Wall and Nene is Washington’s second best at plus-5.8, topped only by the nearly indomitable dash-and-splash combo of John Wall and Bradley Beal (plus-6).

But not everyone is a believer, nor able to recognize the crucial fight and finesse Nene brings to the table. Doug Collins, for example, recently said that Nene is more comfortable being a 16-7 guy than he is a 20-10 guy. That’s an interesting statement coming from Collins, who only once averaged 20 points per game or more, and never came close to averaging seven in any other category. Of course, he’s no Hall of Famer—not as a basketball player, anyway. (And not as one-time coach of the Washington Wizards.)

And that’s the thing. Only the most freakish of NBA talents are “comfortable” putting up 20-10 averages. This year, those guys are Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMarcus Cousins. Last season it was Davis, Aldridge, Cousins, plus Kevin Love and Al Jefferson.

(It should be noted that the year before that, 2012-13, there weren’t any players who averaged 20-10.)

Taking complete control of games from the tip off isn’t something Nene does on a regular basis. But that’s OK. I’d rather have him than either Al Jefferson or Kevin Love this season (Golden State nods in agreement). And maybe DeMarcus Cousins, because of his $15.5 million tab.

A big reason why: even when Nene has a rough night putting the ball in the hoop, like he did Tuesday night against the San Antonio Spurs (2-for-9 from the field), he can still contribute. Against San Antonio, in the Wizards’ first win against Popovich since 2005, Nene rebounded the basketball with bullish purpose (10 total, 9 defensive), practically erased Tiago Splitter and the Spurs bigs around the rim (DFG% of .250), and led all players in plus/minus (+11).

Still not buying the Brazilian? Consider this: Since the start of 2013-14, Washington’s regular season record with Nene in the starting lineup is 37-22 (.627). Without Nene, overall, Washington is just 25-47 (.347).


[Advanced stats via NBA.com/stats accurate as of midnight, Jan. 13, 2015.]


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John Converse Townsend
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
John has been part of the editorial team at TAI since 2010. He likes: pocket passes, chase-down blocks, 3-pointers. He dislikes: typos, turnovers, midrange jump shots.