The Washington Wizards are finally getting some good injury news. Nene is set to make his return on Wednesday night against the Cavaliers, according to J. Michael and Jorge Castillo. While I'm usually not the type to make a big deal out of injury news, Nene's return is important for a few reasons.
The Brazilian big man has missed the last 19 games, during which time the Wizards went 9-10. Before Nene was out, the Wizards weren't much better, only going 6-5 while he was healthy (6-6 if you count his 1 minute, 44 second stint against the Celtics before he got hurt).
Just going on record alone, it may not seem like Nene made much of a difference, but don't forget Nene got hurt before John Wall and Marcin Gortat started to turn it on in December. Before then, Nene was quietly and consistently one of the Wizards' most productive players. He still leads the team in field goal percentage and has the best assist percentage of any non-point guard on the roster. Granted, some of those numbers will probably tail off a bit as his sample size grows, but there's no questioning he's become a more efficient player now that he's playing closer to the basket as a 5 this season.
He's also one of the few players on the Wizards who can create his own shot and still score effectively. Other than John Wall and Ramon Sessions, every other healthy player on the team at the moment has scored at least two-thirds of their field goals on assisted shots. That puts an incredible burden on Wall and Sessions to make things happen for the team, and when they can't get the rest of the team going like on Sunday against the Heat, the Wizards can't score enough to keep pace with anyone.
On the other end, the Wizards were holding opponents to 98 points per 100 possessions when Nene was on the floor, a mark that would make them the third-best defense in the league. Keep in mind the Wizards managed that with Nene even though they played three of the top-ten offenses in the NBA (Spurs, Hawks, and Hornets) and only two of the bottom-ten offenses (Knicks, Pistons) while he was healthy.
Yes, the Wizards adapted well in some respects with Nene out. Jared Dudley and even Otto Porter played some useful minutes at the 5 in hyper-small lineups to get teams out of their normal rotations, but that's not a sustainable strategy. Washington needs as many options on the table as possible to combat the different lineups they'll face the rest of the season, and Nene is another good option they need to get back into the flow of things as quickly as possible to improve their chances at moving up in the standings.