As the Wizards have struggled to adjust to playing with smaller lineups this season, more than one person has suggested the Wizards go back to playing Marcin Gortat and Nene together again. After all, the Wizards seemed to do just fine with them together on the floor last season. They had a net rating of +7.6 together last season.
On Monday, Randy Wittman finally granted the wishes of those people, when he played the two together for the first time all season giving them eight minutes together against the Blazers. It was terrible. Let's review just how the team performed in the eight minutes they played:
- The Wiz were outscored 21-11.
- They shot 5-13 (38.5 percent) from the field while the Blazers shot 8-14 (57.1 percent) from the field and 5-7 from beyond the arc.
- Players not named Nene or Marcin Gortat only accounted for 7 of the 13 points the team scored while they were on the floor together.
And keep in mind, these numbers didn't come against an elite team. This was against the 19-25 Blazers, who were playing their third game in 3.5 days on an East Coast swing and just came off a 15 point loss to the 76ers on Saturday night. Even worse, the Blazers weren't even countering the Wizards' big lineup. The Blazers either had Noah Vonleh and Mason Plumlee on the floor together or Ed Davis and Meyers Leonard. Those are four traditional bigs and Leonard is the only one among them with a decent outside shot. These were the perfect lineups to test if Nene and Gortat could still work together.
Defensively, the Blazers were able to take advantage of how the Wizards' bigs had to play back on pick-and-rolls to whip the ball around the perimeter and force everyone to scramble. All it took was a little bit of patience from the Blazers to create looks like this, where Gary Neal is trying to work around Mason Plumlee with no help on the other side of the pick:
Offensively, it wasn't any better. Nene and Gortat are both at their best close to the basket, so when you have both of them out on the court you end up with looks like this:
The Blazers forced an easy turnover here because they know as soon as Nene pivots baseline all they have to do is cut off his lane to the rim and the pass out to the corner. Nene's only option was to try to pass it back out to Gortat, but Al-Farouq Aminu was playing the passing lane because he wasn't worried about Gortat making the shot from that far out and forced an easy turnover.
To be fair, after the game Randy Wittman appeared to indicate playing Nene and Gortat together wasn't so much an intentional strategy as it was a matter of a lack of healthy bodies:
Who else do I have? I don’t have any other options right now. And it’s hard to get a lot of minutes there, I mean he’s on a restriction, Brad’s on a restriction, and then you have Hump [Humphries] and Otto [Porter] [out], those are your other options at the forward, so we got to make due. That’s not an excuse, I’m not making an excuse, we’ve played like this before.
When you have no other options, you have no other options, but aside from that, Monday should provide enough evidence even in a small sample size that pairing Nene and Gortat is a bad idea. And it's not as if this is the first time we've seen them struggle. After the 2015 All Star break, Nene & Gortat had a -1.6 Net Rating together in regular season and a -8.3 rating in the playoffs.
There's a reason why the team was so desperate to get away from pairing them together last season, and there's a reason why the team waited this long before they tried playing them together. For as talented and useful as each of them are, their skills overlap too much for either of them to be effective together in today's NBA. Trying to go back to what worked in the past won't help them fix what's broken in the present.