The Wizards reportedly tried trading Nene this summer.
Unable to find a taker, they’re keeping him – but apparently demoting him.
Barring injury or a sudden strategy revision, Nene, a 13-year NBA veteran who has been a starter his entire career, will regularly come off the bench and play center — an assignment he has not exactly enjoyed in the past — behind Marcin Gortat. The expected change comes as the Wizards switch to a new read-and-react, pace-and-space offense that will utilize lineups with four three-point shooters and one big man more often.
“I have no clue,” a blunt Nene, 33, said Saturday. “That’s the coach’s decision.”
It had been clear the Wizards would use Nene and Gortat together less often this season, but it seemed the duo would still start.
Apparently, the preseason changes will be permanent. Gortat started Washington’s first two preseason games at center, and Nene got the nod against Bauru last night. Kris Humphries started at power forward in all three.
The Wizards mostly went big during the regular season last year, but they went small in last year’s playoffs – playing Otto Porter over Nene and sliding Paul Pierce to power forward – to great success. Here’s Washington’s offensive/defensive/net ratings in the postseason:
- With Nene: 91.5/103.6/-12.1 in 92 minutes
- With Porter: 125.2/103.9/+21.3 in 51 minutes
Even after Wall got hurt and Ramon Sessions become the Wizards primary point guard, the big/small splits remained similar.
Sessions, Beal, Pierce and Gortat:
- With Nene: 99.0/109.8/-10.8 in 36 minutes
- With Porter: 123.9/116.6/+7.3 in 27 minutes
But who becomes the stretch four now that Pierce is with the Clippers?
Humphries has more range than Nene, but not all the way to the 3-point arc. Drew Gooden has shown improved shooting as he has aged.
Those are both somewhat traditional big men, though.
If the Wizards really want to duplicate their success with Pierce, they have a few wings who could slide down – Jared Dudley (once healthy), Martell Webster and Porter. Their ability to play power forward will depend on the production of Washington’s other wings – Alan Anderson, Gary Neal and Kelly Oubre. The rookie Oubre is a particular wildcard.
Good for Randy Wittman working outside his comfort zone. He has often preferred to play big, even when statistics indicated it was a mistake. He’ll surely use Nene and Gortat together when matchups dictate, but there’s clearly a new normal in Washington.
Pierce, who has excelled at power forward the last couple years, set the stage for this transition. The Wizards aren’t quite as equipped to play this way without him, but their ceiling rises as a small, running team. It’s on Wittman to mix and match player combinations to find the right fit.