This is Part I of a six-part series noting the impact of last March's stunning deal for Nene. In this section, we discuss the ways Nene has changed the team's offensive and defensive philosophies.
How has Nene changed the Wizards' on-court approach? Dramatically.
By trading for Nene, the Wizards made their frontcourt more dynamic offensively. One way he changed the team was with his passing skills. As a facilitator, few centers can match Nene, and JaVale McGee is definitely not one of them. Nene is among the best passing centers in the league, while McGee has the lowest assist rate among centers getting regular playing time.
Being a great passer isn’t a requirement for the center position, but it is something the Wizards sorely needed because of the overall lack of offensive talent. Because of Nene’s patience and vision, the Wizards can give him the ball in the post without having to worry that he will waste a possession with a terrible shot.
It can be relatively easy to catch the ball in the post, stand there, and survey the defense, looking for an open teammate.But what separates Nene from other centers is that he can make a pass off the dribble, in the middle of his post move. McGee, on the other hand, gets into a scoring mindset once he starts his post move, and his tunnel vision doesn’t allow him to see his open teammates.
What makes McGee’s poor passing skills especially bad for an offense is that he is also a bad post scorer. Replacing him with Nene gives you a scoring option in the post and creates open shots on the perimeter.
As far as defense, Nene has improved the team in a few ways. One of JaVale’s most memorable moments in Washington was his ridiculous goaltend of a shot against the Kings. But while that specific play was ludicrous, it was just another (extreme) example of McGee’s inability to hedge on the pick-and-roll. Trading for Nene allowed the Wizards to vary their coverages on pick-and-rolls. Nene has quick enough feet to extend his defense to the perimeter, if needed. McGee can pretty much only sag into the lane.
Even though the average person would say McGee is the more athletic player of the two, in terms of defending the pick-and-roll, Nene’s short-area quickness is more beneficial than McGee’s run and jump ability.
The video below shows some examples of Nene and JaVale’s pick-and-roll defense. Nene shows off his quickness, and JaVale sags into the lane. Dropping back into the lane is a viable strategy, but McGee doesn’t have the lateral quickness to stop a player driving at him. James Johnson and Marcus Thornton, two players not known for their driving ability, leave McGee in the dust.
When discussing McGee's defense, his rebounding struggles always come up. For every season of his career, in both Washington and Denver, the team's defensive rebounding gets worse when McGee steps on the floor. Of course, a lot of this has been attributed to JaVale's tendency to chase blocks, leaving his own man free to grab any missed shots. Although he could tone it down a little, it's hard to tell a shot-blocker to stop trying to block shots; giving up a few rebounds is part of the trade-off when you put a shot-blocker out there.
But what can't be rationalized is his rebounding effort when he doesn't go for a block. When a shot goes up, JaVale has a tendency to neglect his man and walk towards the rim with his eye on the ball. That makes it easy for his man to push him under the basket and/or react quicker to the rebound. Nene, on the other hand, has done a great job making contact with his man and preventing them from getting to the boards. He's even helped his teammates box out while keeping an eye on his own man.
Watching Nene box out makes it easy to see why Washington and Denver's rebounding numbers improved whenever he's been on the court.
The trade has had the desired effect on the Wizards' rebounding numbers. During the previous two seasons, the Wizards were among the worst defensive rebounding teams in the league. This year, the Wizards rank 8th in defensive rebounding rate. Replacing McGee with Nene is a huge part of that.
Clearly, Nene has changed the Wizards' on-court product for the better. It remains to be seen if JaVale can ever make up that gap.