Washington Wizards big man Nene saw his first minutes of action since Feb. 23 in the Wizards’ crushing loss to the Charlotte Bobcats Wednesday. The Brazilian poured in 10 points in 17 minutes and looked more and more comfortable as the game went on. His health will be key if the Wizards have any plans of advancing out of the first round when the playoffs start next week.
Nene is one of the most versatile bigs in the entire league. At 6’11” and 260 pounds, Nene is a massive body who is tremendously skilled. On the season, his 11th in the NBA, the big fella is averaging 14.1 points per game along with 5.7 rebounds and a career-high 2.9 assists. He can score out of the post as well as from mid-range. He also a very good passer out of the high post so the Wizards have the ability to run the offense from him there to make their attack more potent. His 2.9 assists per game is good for sixth best in the league for power forwards.
While at times Nene is moving the ball and helping make the Wizards offense click, they are 2.6 points better per 100 possessions when Nene is not on the floor. This may be attributed to Nene being a ball stopper at times. However, when Nene is dedicated to moving the ball and finding open teammates, the Wizards are certainly better with him on the court offensively. They are simply harder to guard because provides the Wizards offense with another really solid option. They will need that come playoff time.
Nene has never been thought of as a defensive stopper throughout his career. He’s never been thought of as a horrible defender, but he’s certainly not a force in the paint either. This year, he has been quite good defensively for the ninth best defense in the league, based on defensive rating (104.9). When Nene is on the floor the Wizards are letting up 6.2 points fewer per 100 possessions than when he is on the bench. That is a significant difference. And defense becomes even more crucial in the playoffs when the game slows down. Each possession matters and if Nene is unable to be 100 percent, the Wizards defense is going to suffer.
I am more worried about the defense suffering than the offense if Nene is not truly healthy for the playoffs because his replacements, Trevor Booker and Drew Gooden, are sub-par defenders. Gooden is old and slow on rotations while Booker, who plays as hard as anyone, struggles with bigger power forwards as well as protecting the rim. The Wizards are 7.1 points per 100 possessions worse on defense with Gooden on the floor and eight points worse with Booker on the floor. That does not bode well come playoff time.
Nene will be on minute restriction until the playoffs. He expects to play around 16 minutes a game for the last four games of the season and will play it by ear from there. His body has broken down in recent years so it is important the Wizards find a good mix of getting him back acclimated along with getting him healthy. But no matter what, Nene’s health is a huge factor as the playoffs quickly approach.