This is our fourth Summer Checklist piece where we break down an area of weakness each player on the roster can improve. Previously: Bradley Beal | John Wall | Marcin Gortat.
This time last year, the biggest concern for Nene heading into the regular season was his ability to hit the midrange jumper with consistency,. Sure enough, he delivered. His 43 percent clip from midrange last season was his highest in four seasons and 16th among forwards to attempt at least 100 shots from the 15-19 feet area.
This was huge for a Wizards offense that saw both of their starting big men take turns flinging jumpers out of the pick and roll in 2013. Washington was able to incorporate his touch from the outside in a number of ways last season, none more important than as a safety valve for their two young guards.
This is where John Wall made his money last season: on the break in semi-transition with defenders all out of sorts. One inside-out dribble and a rejection of Marcin Gortat's screen and he's in the lane, collapsing the defense and opening up scoring opportunities all over the floor.
But the genesis of this play happens away from the ball, just as Gortat releases and rolls to the rim. He ends up taking Nene's man with him, which springs the Brazilian free for the jumper.
This wasn't just a blip on Nene's career either. His efficiency from this area has been league-average or better in the five years leading up to his 2013 season, a season he hobbled through after his plantar fasciitis flared back up following his participation in the Summer Olympics. Washington is hoping 2013 is the outlier and not the other way around.
In case it isn't, they have the depth in the front court to compensate. DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries both can play in the pick and roll and both have the scoring ability to keep the offense from withering away. They may not be in the same stratosphere defensively, but their innate ability to conjure up second-chance points make the fascinating options in the fourth quarter when fatigue starts to kick in.
But Nene could see his minutes cut if he continues on this downward trajectory in his free throw shooting. He shot just 58 percent from the line last season and 59 percent during the World Cup. And what's even more frustrating is his free throw rate was the highest on the Wizards by a good margin. Those are wasted possessions that could be put to better use with better free throw shooters and players that will fight on the boards for extra possessions.
Look, as long as Nene is healthy, you play him. There's no replacing what he brings defensively, and there's no denying that his box-outs to clear the lane makes the team better on the boards. But that extra level of activity helps, and if that means exchanging what he brings defensively for an extra possession or two on offense, I think Randy Wittman will be wise to at least consider it.