This is the second part of a series exploring how the Wizards can turn things around this season.
For all of the justifiable praise that Nene received last season, considering the remarkable shift in both wins and statistics after theWizards pulled off a midseason trade with Denver, the fact remains that the Brazilian big man only appeared in 11 of the 25 games played after the deal.
The Wizards were 7-4 with Nene on the floor – and blew double-digit second-half leads in three of those losses – but they were just 3-8 without him in games played after he actually reported to the team.
And of those eight losses, five were by 12 or more points – including a 103-65 loss on April 13 in New York, where the Wizards set a franchise record for fewest field goals in a game and finished with the second-fewest points in a game.
So, yes, Nene is a difference maker.
The Wizards plan to be cautious with Nene through training camp and the preseason as he recovers from a plantar fasciitis in his left foot. The injury cost Nene 10 games during the regular season and flared up again during the Olympics, forcing the 6-foot-10 big man to miss a game for Brazil in London.
Nene has had two major setbacks in his NBA career, as he played just three minutes of the 2005-06 season after suffering a serious right knee injury and 16 games in 2007-08 as he battled with testicular cancer. But he played at least 75 games in the next three seasons before appearing just 39 of the 66 games for Denver and Washington during the lockout-shortened season.
With Nene turning 30 earlier this month, the Wizards have to be somewhat concerned about his health since they have committed $52 million to him over the next four seasons.
The Nuggets traded Nene only three months after signing him to a huge contract, disappointed with his injuries and inability to provide enough leadership for a young team.
The Wizards have been pleased with the Nene that they have received. They will be more thrilled if he can be on the court for the bulk of the regular season.
Emeka Okafor, acquired in the pre-draft deal with New Orleans, can fill in for Nene at either power forward or center if he can’t play but Okafor has also recently turned 30 and is coming off a season in which he missed 39 of 66 games because of a left knee injury.
Nene and Okafor are both underrated and relatively productive players who can help the Wizards win games and expedite the growth of young big men Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker and Jan Vesely. But the team will need both veteran bigs – especially Nene – on the floor to be a competitive team.
Nene brought what Roger Mason Jr. described as “credibility” to the Wizards, giving them a borderline all-star with a reputation for being physical and highly skilled. Nene displayed a broader offensive repertoire than he was allowed to show in Denver and he was accurate close to basket and when he stepped back to shoot perimeter jumpers.
He and John Wall started establishing a decent chemistry late in the season, highlighted by their crisp, pick-and-roll execution during a win in Miami over what was left of the eventual champion Heat (playing without LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade). Seraphin credited the presence of Nene with helping him blossom into a dependable offensive option. Nene also served as a coach on the floor, assisting his teammates on defensive positioning and offering tips on how to better attack opponents.
But Nene’s greatest ability this season will be his availability.
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