Maybner "Nene" Hilario. After being picked in the 2002 NBA draft by the Knicks and then subsequently traded to the Denver Nuggets, Nene has led an at-times rocky road through injury, illness and struggling Nuggets teams.
On November 1, 2005, against the San Antonio Spurs, Nenê suffered a serious knee injury on an awkward fall consisting of a torn anterior cruciate ligament, a sprained medial collateral ligament and a torn meniscus in his right knee during Denver's first game of the NBA season.
Since coming back from that injury and persevering through testicular cancer, Nene has come back to be a big part of the Nuggets' rotation and has performed well in his role as the C/PF for the team.
But I believe that Nene is not and cannot be the Nuggets big man for the future. Reasons for why after the jump.
Fig. 1: Too much of this...
Fig. 2: And not enough of this...
1. One of the things people point to when evaluating Nene's skillset is that he's an athletic C who can really run the floor, which one would think is ideal for a team like the Nuggets that thrive on the fast break. At 6'11" and 250lbs, he is certainly faster than many combo Cs his size.
However, while he certainly can run faster than many other players at his position, the flipside of that coin is that he "plays smaller" in the post. How many times have we, as Nuggets fans, watched Nene shrink away in the post from players he quite obviously overmatches physically? He'll quite frequently find himself within 5 feet of the basket, and rather than looking for the layup or dunk, passes out to the perimeter rather than taking the high-percentage shot. While this sometimes has the effect of a Nuggets 3 or open perimeter jump shot, Nene's timidity in the post hurts the team. Opposing teams know that they rarely, if ever, have to double Nene, and that they can consequently play up tighter on the perimeter rather than sagging back to help.
Nene's offensive game is also quite limited. While the ambidextrous Brazillian can finish with either hand, on the break or under the rim, he doesn't have much of a shot outside of a dunk or the occasional 12-16 foot jumper. Scouts have evaluated Nene and they know that when he's bodied up, he will pass first rather than try to draw contact in the post. The best way to play Nene is aggressively and get him frustrated and jawing. When Nene starts barking at the refs, you take him out of his game entirely.
While physically gifted, Nene does not have the aggressive attitude and willingness to fight for boards and easy layups/dunks that the Nuggets need out of a post player.
2. Eight years into the NBA, Nene has never averaged more than 15 points or 7 rebounds in a season. And for all of Nene's vaunted "quick hands" he's never averaged more than 1.6 steals per game - back in 2002-2003, no less (and while certainly high for a center, it's nothing to write home about). Consequently, Denver has never seen Nene mature into the type of post threat that almost immediately commands double teams the way a Tim Duncan, Amare Stoudemire, or Pau Gasol would. Many people believe that this is due to Nene playing "out of position" as a Center, rather than as a forward, but I do not believe that shifting Nene to the PF or C has much of a difference on his game as a whole. Nene is who he is and he will not change.
Nene doesn't board well, either, for being nearly seven feet tall. We've all witnessed his willingness to let other players muscle him in the paint and not sell out going for loose balls. Related to his timidity in the post is his unwillingness to treat every rebound like it's his last and to take offense at every ball that he doesn't grab between his mitts off the glass. He does play fairly well defensively in the post, but again, he gets backed down far too easily and does not contest as well as he could.
The Nuggets are still on the hook for Nene's contract for more than $33m over the next three seasons (should he opt-in to the player option in 2011-12) and his value will never be higher than it is now. The Nuggets should look to entertain all offers on the table for a trade, provided that they get the appropriate pieces in return. As Nene ages, his athleticism will decline, and other than the outside jumpshot, he'll be even less willing in the post than he is now.
Denver needs a player who will fight for every last rebound and who shows developmental progress towards being a dominant center who'll command a double in the post. I believe Nene has peaked and will only gradually decline in coming seasons.
3. The way I see it, the Nuggets have two options:
a) The Nuggets can stand pat as is, let Nene finish out his contract in Denver, and be satisfied with his 13/7 night in and night out. Taking injury history and current play into account, Nene's averages will more than likely decline over the next two years of his contract, probably finishing the 2011 season as a 12/5 or 11/6 average. Additionally, his contract hamstrings Denver from bringing in other pieces alongside him, like a good backup PF for Bird and Kenyon and a "true" center.
b) The Nuggets actively shop Nene throughout this offseason and entertain all trade offers for him. The FA class this coming offseason will be huge, but there's also going to be a market for stiffs to play alongside all the big ticket names. As I said earlier, Nene's value will never be higher than it is now. Nene could be shopped along with J.R. Smith (that's another story) for some great pieces that would serve the Nuggets far better than what they're getting now. They could target Chris Bosh, Brook Lopez, Andrew Bogut, Joakim Noah, David Lee, DeAndre Jordan, Nathan Jawai, Kevin Love, Roy Hibbert...obviously, there are questions remaining as to the availability of these players and how trades would work, but I believe almost any of the above would be a better fit for Denver than Nene is currently.
The fact of the matter is that we've seen everything we'll get out of Nene: a fast, big center who can finish with both hands, play average post defense and run the break...but also a center who shies from contact, does not rebound well for his size, and gets pushed out of his game way too easily.
While I love Nene as a person and have seen him do nothing but good in Denver and in the community, it's time for us to see Nene for what he is and is not. He would be a great 1st option on almost any other team, but Denver needs a post player who will demand respect to open the floor up for Carmelo and other outside shooters.