Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE
Four subtle ways that Nene makes a huge difference for the Washington Wizards.
Boy, I hope Nene continues to be healthy. There are so many ways he helps the Washington Wizards win, and not all of them show up in the traditional box score. As you continue to watch this 0-10 team try to get its first win, focus on the following ways that Nene helps.
Commanding a double team
The problem with the Wizards' offense, contrary to what many would think, was not execution. Randy Wittman's squad has been running the plays well enough, but in every situation, there comes a time when someone has to actually finish it off. A coach can put his team in a position to succeed, but all that really does is create a mismatch or a brief opening. When the players aren't good enough to take advantage of that opening, the play breaks down. (For more on that, read Rob Mahoney's Sports Illustrated piece).
But if Nene can return to the court, suddenly the Wizards have a guy who can actually finish plays. He's too tough to stop one on one in the post consistently, so defense have to send a second guy to account for him. That opens up the floor even more and gives poor play-finishers an even easier means for actually finishing said plays.
Switching out on perimeter players
When Nene is right, he helps a defense so much because he's quick enough to stay with a lot of different kinds of players. Many coaches, including Wittman, like their big men to show hard on a pick and roll in an attempt to divert the ball-handler sideways rather than towards the rim. One risk to this strategy, though, is that the ball-handler pulls back and makes it difficult for his initial defender to get back into the play. That often forces the big man to stay with the ball-handler, creating a major mismatch.
With Nene, though, it really isn't that huge of a mismatch. For a guy his size, he moves incredibly well side to side. Combine that with his wide frame, and guards have much more trouble getting around him than they do against a traditional big. That makes it really easy to apply a pressure defensive scheme.
It also displays how a Nene/Emeka Okafor frontcourt makes defensive sense. While Nene hedges hard on pick and rolls, Okafor can hang more in the back and contest shots at the rim, which is more aligned with his strengths. That pairing may have issues offensively, but with the right matchups, it can be very effective. The Wizards outscored the Hawks by eight points in about seven minutes when the two shared the court on Wednesday night.
Also, Nene can swallow up stretch 4s on mid-post ISOs. Just ask Josh Smith.
There was one play late in the first quarter on Wednesday night that caught my eye. Lou Williams got by his initial defender and got into the lane, where he seemingly had an easy layup. But instead, Nene came over, threw his body in a good position and at least made it difficult for Williams to get his shot off. What Nene lacks in leaping ability, he makes up in positioning.
Getting to the free-throw line
OK, so this shows up in the box score. But for a team that had a historically awful free-throw rate earlier this season, it's huge that Nene got to the stripe 10 times in 19 minutes on Wednesday night. He creates contact very well, especially against longer shot-blockers.
All this is to say that Nene better stay healthy. He patches up so many holes, and if he can't play, all those holes lead to major, major leaks.