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Nene Has Caught His Second Wind

Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire

The Washington Wizards have been dealing with unmet expectations and inconsistent bench play, but there has been one bright spot that has flown under the radar: Nene. The Brazilian bruiser has taken to his role as the backup center and stood out amongst Washington’s otherwise underwhelming reserves.

Despite not exactly fitting into the Wizards’ new pace-and-space offense, he is averaging sixteen points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.2 blocks, and 1.5 steals per 36 minutes on 57.7 percent shooting from the field. In other words, reports of Nene’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

In a previous article, I speculated on how Nene could still be effective, but I didn’t imagine he could be this productive in light of his injury history. The reduced minute load has seemingly revitalized him, allowing him to be a presence on both the offensive and defensive end of the court. When Nene is on the floor, the Washington Wizards score 107.6 points per 100 possessions, and hold opponents to 99.1 points, per NBA.com. For perspective, the team’s 107.6 offensive rating would be the second-best in the league, and its defensive rating would be the tenth-best.

As the focal point of the second unit or, at the very least, the second option alongside Ramon Sessions, Nene uses his strength and skill to score from the post. According to NBA.com, he scores one point per possession while shooting 57.1 percent in post-up situations. The scoring output is even more impressive considering Nene’s efficiency; he accomplishes this mark while only turning the ball over 9.1 percent of the time, and draws a shooting foul 13.6 percent of the time. He is doing work against bench units; something the Detroit Pistons learned fairly recently:

The scoring has been welcome, though another, but just as important part of Nene’s resurgence has been his facilitating. His average of two assists per game doesn’t tell the full story behind his playmaking. According to NBA.com, he assists on eighteen percent of his teammates’ field goals, the third-highest percentage on the team, behind only John Wall and Ramon Sessions – the two point guards and chief ball handlers on the team.

The most frequent recipients of his passes have been Wall, Sessions, Gary Neal, and Bradley Beal. Neal and Beal seem to be the biggest benefactors of his passing, they are currently shooting 53.8 and 70 percent from the field, respectively, per NBA.com. Wall and Sessions, on the other hand, are only shooting 42.9 and 43.8 percent after receiving a pass from Nene. However, these low numbers are understandable to an extent.

Nene’s passing seems to primarily benefit shooters, something Wall and Sessions have never been known as. Wall’s already suspect shooting has been particularly off this year; he is only shooting 41.5 percent from the field, the lowest percentage since his rookie year. Sessions isn’t a good jump shooter as well and rarely attempts shots outside the restricted area preferring to drive the basket and attempt to draw fouls, even against a crowded lane. All in all, Nene’s playmaking has been crucial to the Washington Wizards’ limited success.

There is even a case to be made that Nene has been the best big man on the team. Marcin Gortat, the starting center, is one of many Wizards that have been playing poorly. Gortat is currently giving up 3.6 points per 100 possessions when he is on the floor, and shooting 48 percent from the field from the field – his worst percentage since his rookie year. To be fair, Gortat is playing against starting units without minute restrictions, so it’s not exactly fair to compare his numbers to Nene’s but it’s an interesting debate nonetheless.

Ultimately it is unclear if Nene’s production is sustainable considering his health issues. Depending on a 33-year-old big man with an injury-plagued career is a risky proposition at best, but if Nene’s minutes are managed properly and he receives abundant rest, he may become a key component to Washington getting their season back on course.

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