There is one way that the Washington Wizards can survive the loss of John Wall for eight weeks. The problem? It relies on their other banged-up player being healthy.
Wall's expected absence for the first month of the season with a left patella tendon injury robs the Wizards of their best player, but in the short term, it doesn't necessarily rob them of their most important player. That guy is Nene, not Wall. With Nene on the court last season, the Wizards went 7-4, and a couple of those losses were in games where they blew big leads. While the Wizards probably couldn't have reasonably expected Nene to play as well this season as he did in 11 games last season, they should be able to expect Nene to anchor the team's offense out of the post and provide fundamentally-sound defense wherever they need him. Those skills carry over with or without Wall
The problem, of course, is that Nene is still dealing with nagging injury issues of his own. There are no plans for him to miss any games yet, but there's an ominous feeling when a key player limps around with plantar fasciitis during the Olympics, sits six weeks and is still being brought along slowly. If he too is not 100 percent by the start of the season, the Wizards really have problems. They've built this deep frontcourt of bodies, but they don't have anyone who can do the things Nene does on the roster.
And what does Nene do? Offensively, he's adept in either the high or low post. The Wizards chose to use him primarily in the low post, as nearly 44 percent of his shot attempts were from that area, according to MySynergySports.com. Randy Wittman stressed the importance of getting the ball inside for reliability's sake, and Nene delivered. He can turn and face slower big men to draw fouls, and he can also force double teams and make the right decisions when passing out of them.
Even though the Wizards didn't use him this way, Nene is also pretty adept in the high post. The Nuggets, a team more interested in creating space for driving lanes, habitually ran cutters off him in their halfcourt offense. Nene is really good at executing dribble-handoffs, and his versatility allows him to move seamlessly into side pick and rolls with any ball-handler. We talked about these skills before Nene was acquired, but we didn't see them as much because Wittman wanted to use Nene more in the low post. It's no surprise that Wittman speculated on Friday's conference call that the Wizards could replace Wall's production by channeling more offense through Nene in the free-throw line extended.
All that means Nene, at both of the stages of their careers, is arguably as much of a first option as Wall is for this team. The numbers bear this out. In the 11 games that Wall played with Nene, his usage rate was just 23.6.* For comparisons sake, according to Jake Whitacre's own research, Wall's usage rate in all games after the Nene/JaVale McGee/Nick Young trade was 28.1. Even with Wall healthy, Nene was gobbling up a big chunk of the Wizards' offense that Wall otherwise would have used himself.
So, there's potentially a silver lining. But for this silver lining to be a silver lining, Nene has to be healthy, and plantar fasciitis isn't the kind of injury that just goes away. If Wall is out and Nene's body isn't healthy enough to pick up the rest of the load, it's not really clear where the Wizards get most of their offense.
Better hope Bradley Beal is as good as advertised right out of the gate.