NENE (Part 1)
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.
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 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.
JR Smith (Part 2)
J.R. Smith, in 5 years in the NBA, hasn't matured one bit. He's had continuous off the court problems, conflicts with George Karl (and obviously doesn't listen to/respect him) and just cannot manage to string together a consistent effort from night to night. His primadonna act every time he hacks a player on a drive rather than getting into position is beyond tiresome.
His numbers are down across the board this year compared to last season. His eFG% is down to .479, he's shooting just 33% from 3, his rebounds are down, his assists are down, his turnovers are up. His PER is just 13.5, and he commits 3.2 fouls per game on average.
Denver and its fans must begin seriously evaluating J.R.'s long term future in Denver while his trade value is still high. In the time that I have watched J.R., I have not seen anything that leads me to believe that he's going to change from a me-first gotta-get-mine I-never-foul type player into a mature athlete that can harness his skill.
Witness the difference between J.R. and Lawson. Lawson, as a rookie, contributes quietly, listens to Karl, doesn't complain about fouls and hustles on both ends of the floor. He plays within the offense and plays defense without fouling. J.R. still whines about every call, doesn't feel like he's contributing unless he's nailing 34 footers, and is by and large still a defensive sieve. Lawson has matured more in 7 months as a player than J.R. has in 5 years.
We also know that Denver badly needs a reliable big man to work alongside Nene to counter the Lakers big lineups of Gasol, Odom, Bynum. And Denver's offense is such that J.R.'s offense can be replaced. For every 40 point game J.R. has, he will follow it up with 2-3 6ppg, 3-6 turnover efforts. As a team that wants to get to the finals, we can't have that out of our sixth man.
Yes, I said it. "Unthinkable!" you might add. But we already have our scoring threats in Melo, Billups and Nene. Adding a big that would open up the game - especially for Nene - would more than offset J.R.'s inconsistent at best offense. Our sixth man should be consistent, even if he's not lighting up the scoreboard or setting records, and I think the Nuggets would be far better served by adding a player that will add that level of consistency.
JR's postseason no-show only further cements my call for JR's replacement.
One of the most consistent hallmarks of champions is consistency.
And that is something that JR does not have. The slightest event, provocation or hot shooting streak shatters JR’s fragile team mindset and leads him to terrible 3/10 5/15 shooting nights with 2 ast and 3 TO.
If we trade JR for a player who never scores 30+ points a game in his career but can AVERAGE 13/7 or 12/9, I’m much happier with that player.
It’s also important to bring up his attitude problems. JR has never been a team player, so stop deluding yourselves. He’s in it for #1, and I’m not talking about Chauncey Billups. He doesn’t listen to his teammates, obviously doesn’t respect his coaches and knows that as long he gets his 6m a year then he ain’t nothin’ to fuck with.
Well, time’s up JR. All the off-court bs and inconsistent on-court play have bought you a ticket to a better place. How’s Memphis sound?
JR’s story hasn’t changed once regardless of the team he played for – be it the Hornets, the Bulls, or the Nuggets: a mercurial guard with all the talent in the world, wasted due to an inability to get his head right on the court and off. He won’t listen to his coaches, clashes with players and looks to get his more than anyone else. The Nuggets get more assists (2%, but that adds up over the course of a season) when he’s off the floor. His DRTG is a very sub-par 109. He’s the antithesis of what we need in a SG.
Fact is JR is a star wide receiver of the NBA. Can win you games, will definitely lose you games, combines attitude with inability to be a team player and clashes with coaching and management constantly. You look at these type of players and you ask them where they get their teams: maybe close to the top, but never over it.
Note that this is not the same as saying that we expect 7 3ps a night from JR. He just needed to provide stability and control to the bench, something which JR clearly lacks.
It’s obvious that there have been failures in other parts of this team. But I’m tired of excusing JR’s antics and inconsistency. Like I said, if he lights us up, so be it, but at least he won’t be causing locker room drama and jacking up awful threes anymore.
Year over year JR has shown little to no improvement in any aspect of his game, on or off the court. I understand why Wark loves his POTENTIAL, but like everything in the world, potential means nothing until its set in motion.
It’s been four years since JR’s been set in motion and that’s still all we’re looking at – potential.