Nene caught the ball on the left block, backed down Kevin Seraphin and spun left, showing the ball to get Seraphin off his feet. As Seraphin jumped and flailed, Nene dipped underneath, took a drop step and made a finger roll.
In his first practice with his new team, Nene showcased some of the skills that convinced the Washington Wizards that it was worth taking his strength and stability over the length and upside of JaVale McGee.
He rebounded and defended without getting out of position. He scored in the post and even shared the ball with players as they moved toward the basket, providing a dimension that didn’t exist before — and had his teammates off guard.
“He hit a couple of people in the head making a baseline cut,” John Wall said after practice. “They are not used to getting the pass back.”
Nearly a week after he was acquired from Denver in a three-team trade that also included the Los Angeles Clippers, Nene will finally make his debut with the Wizards on Wednesday against the New Jersey Nets. Nene and the Wizards (10-34) won’t have much time to get used to each other with 22 games remaining.
“It’s so tough that the trade is made at this point in the season when we’re out of contention, given that we’re playing a lot better. We’re spacing the floor. Guys are sharing the ball,” eighth-year guard-forward Maurice Evans said. “We’re playing with a different kind of energy now. And with the more veterans we bring in, we’re going to learn how to close out games.”
And, after a culture-shifting trade deadline deal that shipped both McGee and Nick Young elsewhere, the Wizards continue to undergo roster changes. Coach Randy Wittman said after practice that the team would shut down Andray Blatche until the 6-foot-11 forward gets in better condition. Blatche missed more than a month with a strained left calf but has averaged just 5.1 points on 37.7 percent shooting and 3.3 rebounds in about 16 minutes as he labored through nine games since he returned.
He played five ineffective minutes on Sunday in Memphis, where he went scoreless with one rebound, a foul and a turnover. He missed his only shot attempt, then passed on taking an open jumper to throw a pass directly to Grizzlies guard O.J. Mayo. Wittman benched Blatche for the final 33 minutes of the game.
“We thought we could maybe try to play him into shape once he got back,” Wittman said. “After looking at it, it’s unfair for me to put him in that position. And I think what we’re going to do, we’re going to probably not play him for a while, get him on a program here, where he can really go after it from a conditioning standpoint to get himself back into shape.”
Blatche is averaging just 8.5 points and 5.8 rebounds, the only time in his career that his statistics haven’t improved from the previous season. The Wizards have gone 3-6 since he came back and tried unsuccessfully to move Blatche at the trade deadline. He still has three years and $23 million remaining on his contract after this season.
Wittman said the team will also continue to rest veteran forward Rashard Lewis, who hasn’t played since the all-star break because of a bone bruise in his left knee. Lewis worked out with the team in Memphis but experienced a setback.
Lewis and Blatche will be around the team at home games and practices but will not travel. Wittman wouldn’t estimate when either player would be back, but he feels that the Wizards are more capable to withstand their losses with the additions of Nene and forward Brian Cook, who was also acquired in the trade deadline deal.
Cook, a nine-year veteran, gives the Wizards a 6-foot-9 forward who can spread the floor and knock down three-pointers, while Nene will give the Wizards a more physical front line with Seraphin and Trevor Booker. Wittman said he would simplify the offense as the players adjust to their new surroundings.
“I know Nene. He’s been in the league 10 years, but obviously seeing him, talking with him, understanding his likes and dislikes, that’s always important and I’m going to learn more and more as time goes on,” Wittman said. “I kind of had an idea of the things where we would utilize him and now it’s a thing of getting him a comfort level, but we’re going to throw him in and I don’t have any problems thinking he’s going to sink. He’ll swim.”
Wittman said he doesn’t expect Nene to have any trouble playing with an up-tempo team. “He came from Denver. We’ve known Denver, since George [Karl] has been there, has been a running team. I told him the altitude is not as high here as it is in Denver. His lungs ought to be pretty good here.”
Nene is prepared to take on the challenge of learning a new system after spending his entire career with the Nuggets. “I need to adjust in the game how they play,” Nene said.
“We have veterans. Now we need to help the young guys read the game,” he said. “They have the talent. Now the important thing is [read] the opponent. You need to pace yourself a little bit and you understand a little bit more of the game. We’ll be fine.”