Nenê in the Old/New Year — A Wizards Preview Series | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Nenê in the Old/New Year — A Wizards Preview Series

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Updated: October 27, 2015

[TAI’s preview/review series on the Wizards going forward with a look-back on those who graced the team in the past season continues. First up was Kevin Seraphin; then Paul Pierce; Alan Anderson; Otto Porter; Kris HumphriesRasual Butler; Ramon Sessions; Andre Miller; and Kelly Oubre, Jr. Now: Nenê, by Sean Fagan. Read on…]

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We have finally come to the end of a long and winding road, that of the outsized contract for one of the more inscrutable Wizards personalities in recent years—Nenê (Hilario). Already, the pitchforks have been sharpened and the torches have been lit as we prepare for Nenê’s likely exit at the end of the year. His yawning cap space figure ($13 million this season) affords us warmth on crisp nights with the thought of Kevin Durant returning to his ancestral home, filling cap space made vacant by Nenê’s departure.

Statistical articles have already been written decrying Nenê’s ineffectiveness and early plaudits have been heaped upon his replacement at the power forward position, Kris Humphries, who now has the green light to chuck 3-pointers with abandon. Opening the floor with a 4 who can shoot 3s better fits the newly minted pace-and-space offense of Randy Wittman, rather than the grit and grind that Nenê provided in the post. Nenê has become a symbol for all that ailed the Wizards last year and kept them from reaching their maximum potential. With Nenê ensconced in the lineup, Wittman continued to press forward with his “long 2” offensive outlook—because the pick-and-pop with Nenê (or even running offense out of him from the post) had in past years been a weapon of devastation, it further chained Humphries into replicating his game into a version of Nenê-lite. As Nenê has slowed, those touches began to feel a bit more forced. Ironic, considering that when Humphries was playing a more “traditional” 4, i.e., getting out of the way of John Wall and getting his points from put-backs, his touches were often the last resort. Now, they run plays for Humphries at the 3-point line. More damning, the combination of Nenê and Gortat (it was opined, even by the players themselves) clogged the paint too often at times, preventing Wall from finding the open lanes he needed to wreak havoc on opposing defenses.

The winds of change have blown across the landscape of the Association. Nenê’s game is ill-suited to the small ball fad, which emphasizes 3-point attempts over all other shots (not at the rim), currently taking the league by storm.

So it is high time that we move on from Nenê. Time to step away from the curmudgeon who carefully cultivated a relationship with media that was reticent at best and hostile at its worst. (Until this Media Day, where Nenê came out of his shell and was … dare I say it … gregarious?) Time to move on from a player who seems to spend more time bitching at officials for the calls he doesn’t receive than the entirety of the Wizards roster. Time to finally cut loose the malingerer, the guy who is always dinged up, the man who coyly suggests that he might “retire” when his team needs him most. Honestly, good riddance and make sure to leave your parking spot open for Kevin Durant when he sets up in the Phone Booth.

But before we shovel the last bits of dirt on Nenê’s career in Washington, let us posit a few arguments in the Brazilian’s favor and how his impact on the franchise is actually much larger than often accounted for upon initial inspection. It can be argued that the fulcrum for the franchise’s recent success was the fateful trade of JaVale McGee to the Nuggets for Nenê: a true turning point of the organization from potential to professional. Remember, at the time that the trade was hotly debated—the Wizards were trading the UNLIMITED UPSIDE of McGee for a known quantity (Denver’s “buyer’s remorse”) in Nenê. The Wizards were being fleeced by their own inability to develop their drafted players and paying the price by buying stock in a player who had signed a mammoth five-year extension, yet was being shipped off from the only NBA team he had ever played for less than six months later. The argument that Washington had once again bailed prematurely on an unrealized asset gained steam later that spring when the Wizards watched the playoffs from the comfort of their couches (despite some inspired late season play by Nenê), while McGee seemed to finally be putting it together in Denver, punctuating his first playoff performance by blocking (then-Laker) Pau Gasol’s shot in the waning moments and sealing a Nuggets win.

Of course, we all know how that trade eventually turned out. McGee failed to develop any further in Denver and quickly wore out his Rocky Mountain welcome as fast as he did in D.C. Nenê, by contrast, became a steadying (if intermittent) presence in the heart of the Wizards lineup, providing a safety valve for a young John Wall to rely upon when baskets were needed and displaying a defensive acumen for a Wizards big man that hadn’t been seen since the hey-day of Rick Mahorn. When the Wizards finally reached the playoffs for the first time since 2004, it was Nenê who steadied a young team against the playoff-tested Bulls, devouring Joakim Noah on both ends of the floor and providing the “Easter miracle” game in which he emerged from a one-game suspension for head-butting Jimmy Butler (always temperamental, that Nenê) to torch the Bulls in Game 5 for 20 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and two steals.

The other argument for why Wizards fans may be so quick to move on from Nenê are the optics that he was never really one of their own. He wasn’t drafted by the organization like Wall or Beal, he wasn’t snagged prior to his ascent to stardom like Arenas, nor was he even coveted by Wizards fans as a possible “get” like a Marcin Gortat. Nenê occupies a weird space with other “Rent-a-Wizards” such a Rashard Lewis or Mike Miller, players whose minutes are being counted down till the time they leave, due to either the length and cost of their contracts or their known desire to play for a different franchise. The strange part is that if we were to measure players in the latter by the amounts of shits they gave, Nenê would be head and tails above his other mercenary compatriots. Since the day he arrived in D.C. (and whenever his body allowed him) Nenê executed Randy Wittman’s schemes, whether it was in the dark days following his arrival or the more fruitful past two years. Compare this to the play of Lewis or Miller, who looked to be cooked in D.C., only to have a miraculous “revival” upon signing with the juggernaut Miami Heat.

So before we shove Nenê out the Verizon Center doors for the last time and begin dreaming of the next great Wizards team, let us appreciate his contributions to the current one and and not look past what he can possibly contribute to the team in his swan song. Even though small ball is all the rage at the moment, there will still be a moment where beef needs to be prioritized over lithe. Without Nenê, the Wizards could wilt against Milwaukee or Chicago, not to mention a Cavaliers team that can run out Timofey Mozgov, Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson. Remember that the reigning kings of small ball (Golden State) were taken nearly to the limit (six games) by behemoth Grizzlies and may have lost if not for a key Tony Allen injury. For all the lane clogging and analytically disappointing jumpers, it could be Nenê’s burliness that decides the Wizards playoff fortunes.

Best Moment.

Nenê’s best moment came early on in the 2014-15 season, in a January win against the New York Knicks in which he chipped in a line of 20 points (8-13), six rebounds and four assists and was a whopping plus-35 on the evening. He even launched an ill-advised 3-pointer. It started off one of the last true “vintage” Nenê runs in which tore through the month of January averaging close to a double-double.

Worst Moment.

As with all things Nenê, his worst moments are often determined by his health and how he is feeling at any particular moment. Despite being rested by Randy Wittman over the last few weeks of the season, Nenê’s play upon being reinserted into the Wizards starting lineup was less than inspired as he was repeatedly torched in the playoffs by the small ball lineups run out by the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks. His defensive ineptitude and inability to secure key rebounds were a particularly sore subject in the series against the Hawks.

Curious Stat.

As power forwards and centers get older it is not unusual to see their rebound and block totals decline. Such is the law of the jungle in the NBA where the young eat the old unless the old get craftier and wiser. For Nenê, what was surprising is that along with his rebounding, his court vision also appeared to disappear overnight. Nenê had clocked in with an average of 2.9 assists in his previous two seasons with the Wizards only to watch his average tumble in 2014-15 to 1.8.

If Nenê were a type of food or an entire meal of food he would be…

Cilantro. Because opinion is staunchly divided on whether he is good or not.

 

[Nene with belt -- photo via K. Weidie]

[via instagram.com/truthaboutit]

[#NeneHands, #Pray4Nene -- via @ConorDDirks]

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[via instagram.com/truthaboutit]

[original image via @JoeGlo1 of @HoopDistrictDC]

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Sean Fagan on FacebookSean Fagan on Twitter
Sean Fagan
Reporter / Writer/Gadfly at TAI
Based in Brooklyn, NY, Sean has contributed to TAI since the the dawn of Jan Vesely and has been on the Wizards beat since 2008. His work has been featured on ESPN, Yahoo and SI.com. He still believes that Mike Miller never got a fair shot.