Injuries happen. We saw how freakish and out of the blue they can be in regards to Paul George‘s recent injury. However, some guys are more injury-prone than others and find themselves in a suit on the end of the bench regularly. In the last couple years, as he put more mileage on his 6’11”, 260-pound Brazalian frame, Nene has been a regular occurrence on the injury report for the Washington Wizards.
In his last four seasons (three of them with the Wizards), Nene has only played more than 60 games one time. He most notably missed six weeks last season with a left knee MCL sprain. For a guy his size, entering his 13th season in the NBA, it is not unusual for the body to be breaking down like it is.
While Nene brings a lot to the table with his offensive versatility and as a big body on defense, I don’t think his health will make or break next season. Of course, you want the guy to be healthy, but if Nene misses some time next season for injuries, it is not the end of the world for this Wizards team.
Defensively is where Nene is missed most when he’s sidelined. He was a rock on the defensive end last season. A frontcourt of him and Marcin Gortat is as physical a frontcourt as there is in the game today. The two-man lineup of Gortat and Nene had the lowest defensive rating (95.5) of any two-man lineup that played more than 140 minutes for the Wizards, according to NBA.com. As a whole, the Wizards were 5.2 points better per 100 possessions defensively when Nene was on the floor.
While Nene is not going to block many shots (0.9 per game last season), he is athletic enough to competently cover the pick and roll nicely and he has great hands defensively (1.2 steals per game). When the Wizards were forced to give Trevor Booker big minutes with Nene sidelined last season, their defense was not nearly as good because Booker is nowhere near the physical force Nene is.
Offensively, I kind of tend to think the Wizards can be better without Nene. Look, I get Nene is a really talented offensive player. For a player his size, who can score out of the post, pick n’ roll, and knock down mid-range jumpers, he is a unique offensive player. However, the Wizards were better by 1.8 points per 100 possessions offensively last year with Nene on the bench. That is not a huge difference, but it is something we could continue to see rise.
I think the Wizards can be at their best when John Wall is pushing the pace. With two traditional big men in Gortat and Nene, it is hard to do that. We have seen the league go away from the traditional front court and play smaller.
With Nene out of the lineup, the floor becomes more spaced. Wall has more room to operate and find open shooters. When Wall is driving and kicking to shooters, the Wizards are a tough team to defend because of how effective Wall is at getting into the paint. With Nene and Gortat in, there isn’t always that same lane to penetrate because the middle is clogged with two low post players.
I also thought Nene was often a ball stopper last season, disrupting the flow of an offense. It seemed to happen a few times a game where he would catch the ball at the high post, size up his opponent for a few seconds before taking a tough midrange jumper.
Nene is certainly key to this Wizards team next season, especially defensively. The Wizards were the eighth most efficient defense in the league last season and Nene was a big part of that. Defense has become an identity for the Wizards and Nene is a big reason why of that. I just don’t think Nene’s health is as crucial with the growth of Wall and Bradley Beal as well as offseason additions of Paul Pierce, Kris Humphries, and Dejuan Blair.
Again, I hope Nene is healthy all season, but I don’t think it will be the deciding factor of the 2014-15 season.