Before David Stern nixed the deal that would have sent Chris Paul to the L.A. Lakers, (in a move that raised eyebrows across the legal ethics community), Daryl Morey’s masterplan for rebuilding his team involved pairing Nene with center Pau Gasol. As we know now, that never happened, James Harden is a Rocket, and the rest is history. After what seems like a decade later, Nene is finally a Rocket, now at age 34, after having spent the past five seasons in Washington. The big man has been drawing raves in camp thus far, with Mike D’Antoni even calling him a top-5 center when healthy. I personally was ecstatic upon hearing news of the signing, given the incredible value of the deal. Even despite his age and injury concerns, one would think a player of Nene’s caliber would be able to garner an offer higher than the $2.9 million at which he agreed, especially in this market.
But he’s here now, at least for this season, and that is a boon given the team’s need to bridge the gap between Dwight Howard and Clint Capela. I would not be shocked to see Nene starting on opening night, at least long enough until Capela is ready to take over the job and demonstrate that he can play starter’s minutes without incurring early fouls.
What can the Rockets expect from Nene this year? He still averaged 17.3 points per 36 minutes, and shot 54% from the field last seasons. 47% of his shots came around the basket, 18% came between 3 and 9 feet, 13% came between 10 and 15 feet, and 21% came between 16 feet and the 3 point line. He shot 70% near the basket, 45% between 3 and 9 feet, 39% between 10 and 15 feet, and 39% between 16 feet and the 3 point line. The Rockets have already talked a lot about Nene initiating the offense out of the high post.
While Clint Capela and Nene both had a defensive rating of 103 last season, Capela averaged 16.7 rebounds per 100 possessions, compared to the 11.8 per 100 possessions which Nene posted. Capela ate up 18.7% of the rebounds in his vicinity, compared to just 13.2% for Nene. Capela also grabbed 23.2% of the defensive rebounds available during his playing time, while Nene brought down just 18.7%. I’ve written extensively in support of my premise that the Rockets would not miss Dwight Howard this season defensively and at the rim. However, it appears Nene will not provide much help in the one department where the Rockets will miss Howard – on the boards. That’s perfectly fine for essentially a vet minimum acquisition. I just wanted to make that point clear in case anyone had any delusions of grandeur. Rebounding will still be a problem.
Overall, this was a great pickup, even factoring in the expected 20 games Nene will likely miss due to injury. If he can further mentor Capela and buy the team some time until the third-year center is ready, the Rockets will get great return on their investment.