The 34 year-old Brazilian big man has fit in perfectly in Houston
When Nene signed with the Houston Rockets this past offseason, many analysts and fans praised the move, and rightly so. It was a one year, $2.9 million deal, and it provided the Rockets with an experienced, defensive-minded, physical presence in the front court.
Now everyone is singing the praise of the signing, as Nene has been revitalized in a smaller role off the bench for the surprisingly successful Rockets. This season Nene is averaging 9.1 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, while shooting a career high 61.8 percent from the field in 17.9 minutes per game.
Nene’s advanced numbers paint an even better picture of his performance and resurgence this season, as he is posting a PER of 18.9 (his highest since the 2010–11 season), a true shooting percentage of 63.1 (his highest since the 2010–11 season), and 4.2 win shares (which are again, his highest since the 2010–11 season).
Nene has fit in perfectly in the Rockets’ new system, as he is a great roll man to play alongside James Harden. Turn on any Rockets game and you will see at least 3–4 great pick-and-rolls involving Harden and Nene.
Nene can set great screens, and more importantly, can finish around the rim. This season Nene is shooting 72.6 percent from within three feet of the rim. While Nene is not the alley-oop threat the Clint Capela is, he is better at receiving a variety of passes from Harden and finishing at the rim in multiple ways.
Nene’s role on the Rockets’ excellent bench has been a key this season. In fact, among lineups that have played at least 100 minutes this season, the four that Nene appear in all have net ratings of at least 2.2. The lineup Nene has played the most with is the group of Harden, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, and Ryan Anderson, with that lineup posting a net rating of 9.4 in the 192 minutes it has played.
Nene’s presence on the defensive end has also been important for the Rockets. This season Nene owns a 1.0 defensive box plus-minus and an even more impressive 3.03 defensive real plus-minus, good for eighth in the league among centers. Nene also anchored the Rockets’ best defensive lineup among lineups that have played at least 100 minutes, as the bench mob of Patrick Beverley, Gordon, former Rocket Corey Brewer, and Sam Dekker posted a defensive rating of 90 in the 138 minutes it played.
The Rockets have been strategic and careful in monitoring Nene’s minutes this season, as he has often sat out one game of back to backs and has only played more than 25 minutes in a game twice this season. This strategy has seemed to replenish some hop in Nene’s legs, as he has 80 dunks this season, his most since the 2010–11 season.
And let’s clear something up, not all of those dunks are routine under the rim slams. Nene has been taking people’s souls this year with poster dunk after poster dunk.
Nene’s ability to be the perfect roll man for James Harden, hit mid-range shots, and play good rotational defense has been key for the Rockets this season. Resting Nene strategically has allowed him to avoid injuries and be a reliable contributor on a regular basis.
As the Rockets shift their attention to the playoffs where they will be taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder, Nene’s big, physical presence will be crucial going against the big, physical front-court of the Thunder. Nene is exactly the experienced veteran the Rockets can use off the bench, and if his play during the regular season is any indication, you can expect some dunks, crafty pick-and-roll finishes, and solid defense from the Brazilian big man this postseason.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com