With the Washington Wizards transitioning to a pace-and-space offense, former starting power forward Nene’s role on the team is at best precarious. Without even acknowledging that he is in the last year of his contract, the uncertainty surrounding Nene is substantiated by ESPN’s Marc Stein report that the Wizards were trying to move him during the offseason.
Concurrent with their pursuit of David West, I'm told Wizards continue to shop Nene but clinging to hope they can trade him into cap space
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 3, 2015
This report, coupled with his injury history and age, strongly indicates that this is probably the Brazillian big man’s last year in Washington. While that may eventually prove true, Nene can still provide a contribution to the Wizards, especially to the second unit. Kris Humphries supplanted him for the starting role because Humphries was a better shooter, not a better player. Depending on rotations—specifically how John Wall and Bradley Beal’s minutes are staggered— Nene has the opportunity to be the focal point of the second unit.
Nene isn’t the player he used to be, but he can still score and is an excellent passer for his position. He is a particularly proficient post up player. The post up play on its own isn’t an efficient means to score, but combined with Nene’s passing, the Wizards may have a way to consistently manufacture points when their starters are resting.
Thanks to Seth Partnow of Nylon Calculus, I was able to see how effective Nene was at scoring on post-ups—specifically how he shot within eight feet of the rim when the defender did not give up size compared to when he was smaller. Last season, Nene shot a respectable 58 percent against similarly sized protectors, but was even more efficient in mismatches. He shot a blistering 71.8 percent against smaller competition. If Nene can leverage the threat of scoring to find shooters like Jared Dudley, Gary Neal, and Alan Anderson, the Wizards will have a potent bench.
Though Nene’s post up field-goal percentage is impressive, it is somewhat negated by his turnover rate. For his career, Nene has averaged 15.8 turnovers over 100 possessions, according to BasketballReference.com. His turnover rate isn’t abominable, but it does compromise his efficiency on an already quasi-inefficient play. This may not be as a big as a problem, though, considering Nene will be playing most of his minutes against backup units, a situation he excelled in last season.
Against starters, Nene had an effective field-goal percentage of 49.2, but against opposing benches, had an effective field-goal percentage of 55.9. Assumedly, most, if not all, starters have better field-goal percentages against reserve units, but it’s encouraging to see regardless.
Putting aside the difference in the quality of the opposition he will face, Nene’s health may also benefit. He hasn’t played a full season since 2010, and his body would probably welcome the reduction in minutes. Nene will be fresh when called upon in the regular season, and eventually in the playoffs.
Though his reduction in playing time will certainly help his chances of staying healthy, it is unclear if his body can take the brunt of being a consistent scoring option, even in a reduced role. Chances are Nene won’t be the leader of the second unit, but he is still capable of helping the Wizards. His defense, passing, and inside scoring are still valuable skills that the Wizards can utilize while embracing their new identity.