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We're now on Week 5 since Nene hurt his knee. Since then, the Wizards have treaded water against an easy schedule, which is a huge upgrade from what they've historically done when Nene has been injured. Marcin Gortat has stepped his game up, Drew Gooden has become a useful piece off the bench and the Wizards' offense, specifically their second unit, has managed despite an expected defensive drop-off.
But Nene will be back soon, likely before the playoffs begin. The Wizards definitely need him, though perhaps not as much as they thought before he got hurt. And he will play, because you don't abandon someone like him during the playoffs, when the ebbs and flows of a game are that much more pronounced.
The question: what's the best use of Nene at this point?
Let's assume that the Wizards won't just be able to hand Nene 35 minutes a game right off the injury. There will surely be a minutes limit initially, and it might not even be prudent to play him that much if he's fully healthy anyway. That leaves a few options:
Play him with the starters: The upside is that the John Wall/Bradley Beal/Trevor Ariza/Trevor Booker/Gortat unit is struggling, having been outscored by two points/100 possessions this season. Replace Booker with Nene, and the unit's +/- rises to +10.7 points per 100 possessions, one of the top numbers in the league. That said, Booker's minutes are dwindling, so what happens in crunch time? Does Nene play or do the Wizards stick with a small lineup or one of the AARP unit members in there?
Play Nene off the bench: This would maintain a veteran presence on the bench unit and add a post outlet for those times when the AARP unit struggles to score. This also keeps Nene's minutes down, at least initially. But the AARP unit, despite often frustrating us, is outscoring teams by almost 17 points per 100 possessions in limited minutes together. Do you want to break that up?
Use a mix: One solution: start Nene, take him out early, play him some with the second unit and mix and match from there. That would allow Nene to patch whatever holes are needed, but it also messes up whatever chemistry each lineup has developed.
If it were up to me, I'd remove Booker from the rotation and give Nene all of his minutes. As to whether Nene plays down the stretch, it'd depend on whether Gooden and Al Harrington are making shots. If they are, I'd be fine sitting Nene. If they aren't, then Nene should be out there.
What say you?
Several Wizards weighed in on the age limit question. I thought Al Harrington had the best answer:
"Older players are going to hopefully get two more years out of their career by keeping the younger guys out. I don't like it, but it's going to happen," said Harrington, who went 25th overall to Indiana in the 1998 draft. The NBA owners "always get what they want anyway."
It brings back a hilarious, yet poignant tweet that Tom Ziller put out a while back about how disingenuous the league and the players advocating for raising the age limit are:
If we're only concerned with how the on-court product fares, we ought to set an age maximum too. Get Derek Fisher out of the league.— Tom Ziller (@teamziller) March 14, 2014
As for actual solutions, Paul Flannery has some good ones in SBNation.com's Sunday Shootaround.
- You probably know this, but a win over Charlotte OR a Knicks loss to Utah clinches a playoff spot. Better hope Trevor Ariza plays.
- Totally missed Paul George saying Marcin Gortat should be the defensive player of the year. This is George's way of needling teammate Roy Hibbert, isn't it? There's no way he actually believes Gortat is the best defensive player in the league, is there?
- Interesting piece by Fear the Sword comparing Dion Waiters and Bradley Beal. Hate to say it, but Waiters is having a better season. The Cavs are somehow just two games out of eighth place.
- Kevin Love, throwing some shade at the Nets.
Feel free to drop and discuss any other links or whatever's on your mind in the comments.