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Why Nene is the Wizards’ Frontcourt X-Factor

August 9th, 2014 at 3:20 PM
By Matt Graber

Photo credit: Keith Allison / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Wizards had a busy offseason, adding Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair and bringing back Marcin Gortat, Drew Gooden and Kevin Seraphin to help fortify their front court. These were quality moves that ensure a degree of continuity and provide depth and injury insurance. But while Humphries and Blair are both solid players, neither are as crucial to the Wizard's success as Maybyner Rodney Hilario (you may know him as Nene). The hulking Brazilian's size, versatility and experience are irreplaceable aspects of the Wizard's frontcourt attack, and his veteran leadership is essential to a young Wizards team looking to take the next step. Nene remains the X-factor of the Wizards' frontcourt, and his all-around game remains crucial to Washington replicating or improving on last year's success. 

Nene is one of those under-the-radar, jack-of-all-trades type players who does a little bit of everything and whose all-around skill often gets overlooked. His experience, versatility and mastery of the fundamentals help Washington is ways that don't show up on the statsheets, as lineups that include the big Brazilian often fare better on both ends of the floor. He doesn't post great rebounding numbers and he's hardly a defensive stopper, but his team's always rebound and defend well. He's not a dominant scorer, but his range, pick-and-roll savvy and underrated passing make him an effective post option. He's a team-first player and a strong leader, and he's willing to do all the little things to make his team successful. 

That's not to say Nene doesn't have any standout skills, however. His ability to shoot makes him unique among Washington's bigs. According to NBA.com, Nene shot 47% from 16-24 ft. last season, above the league average. This ability to stretch the floor gives the Wizards another scoring option and more importantly opens up room for John Wall to operate. Lineups where Wall and Nene are flanked by shooters can be offensively lethal thanks to the spacing they afford the speedy point guard, who can capitalize and either find his own looks or utilize his slash-and-kick prowess to create open three-point opportunities. 

Nene's shooting leads into one of his other strengths; his compatibility with Marcin Gortat. According to NBA.com, the Nene-Gortat duo was the Wizard's most effective two-man pairing last season in terms of team +/-, with a 4.1 margin when the duo shared the floor. The Wizards also shot 42% from beyond the arc with both Nene and Gortat on the floor, thanks to the duo's effective screening and Nene's ability to stretch the floor with his midrange game. The pair demonstrated their value in the Wizard's playoff upset of the Bulls, where Nene's shooting and Gortat's rim protection stymied Joakim Noah and the Bull's frontcourt and provided opportunities on both ends of the floor. 

While Nene is most effective when paired with Gortat, he demonstrated last year that he's just as comfortable coming off the bench as he is starting. The team experimented with bringing Nene of the bench last season, a move that paid off thanks to Nene's versatility and ability to serve as a secondary playmaker. Nene's all-around game means he can fit into a variety of lineups and can serve a variety of roles, making him a bench player who can be utilized in a number of situations. 

The biggest question mark when it comes to the 31-year old Nene is, as always, his health. He missed 29 games last year and hasn't played a full 82 game season since 2009. Fortunately, the Wizards's now have front court depth, a luxury they weren't afforded last season. Expect the team to roll back Nene's minutes this year. They don't need him to play thirty minutes a game like last year; if he can give them 20-25 solid minutes, whether it be as a starter or coming off the bench, the Wizards' frontcourt will be in good shape. 

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Tags: Basketball, NBA, Nene, Washington, Washington Wizards

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