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Nene is an elite player

Apr 4, 2011, 5:42 PM EDT

Nene

The Denver Nuggets’ post-Carmelo play has been one of the best stories of the second half of the season. The Nuggets had the highest offensive efficiency in basketball before trading Anthony, and they haven’t skipped a beat offensively since the trade. More importantly, the Nuggets have transformed themselves into one of the best defensive teams in the league since the trade. Having the league’s best offense with a great defense is a very good thing, and the Nuggets have been on an absolute tear since they made the trade.

The Nuggets’ post-Carmelo success has hardly been a secret, but here’s one question that hasn’t been asked enough in the wake of the Nuggets’ success: if Nene (nee Nene Hilario) can be the starting center for one of the best defensive teams in the league, why isn’t he one of the best centers in the league?

Consider the following:

- Nene’s “True Shooting” percentage is currently 66.5%, which is the second highest true shooting percentage in the league. Nene averages 14.8 points per game. That is an incredible combination of scoring volume and efficiency — only Charles Barkley, Artis Gilmore, Cedric Maxwell, and Darryl Dawkins have ever averaged more than 14.5 points on 66.5% or better True Shooting over the course of a full season.

- Nene is a skilled passer, and his turnover ratio is solid as well.

- Nene has a lower usage rate and a higher PER than Chris Bosh.

Basically, if you have any doubt that Nene is one of the best offensive centers in basketball, you haven’t been paying attention. Nene is a versatile offensive player who can do damage in post-up situations, is an absolute master of creating scoring opportunities for himself without the ball in his hands, is an excellent finisher around the basket who can run the floor, is a good free-throw shooter, and can even step out and make mid-range jumpers.

His statistical accomplishments are beyond reproach, and he has one of the best offensive +/- ratings on a team that has had the highest offensive efficiency in basketball for most of the season. (In case you’re wondering, the loss of Carmelo hasn’t impacted Nene’s offense in the slightest — he averaged 14.8 points per game on 60% shooting from the field in March.)

The question with Nene has always been his defense. The Nuggets had been a below-average defensive team for the last two years, and Nene looked like part of the problem. He has never been much of a shot-blocker, and he was prone to missing rotations and seemingly taking plays off on defense. Nobody questioned Nene’s offense, but there were some worries about whether or not Nene put a glass ceiling on a team’s defense.

With the way the Nuggets have been playing defense since Carmelo left, it appears that no glass ceiling exists. Playing alongside Chris Anderson and Kenyon Martin helps, but Nene has been buying in and using his athleticism to disrupt opposing offenses, and he definitely has been a valuable part of the Nuggets’ stifling new-look defense. Simply put, it’s time to give Nene his due as one of the best centers in basketball.

This is a good news/bad news situation for the Nuggets. On the bright side, their starting center is one of the best centers in the league, and will increase their chances of going far in the playoffs. On the other hand, Nene can opt out of his contract after this season, and will command serious money on the open market if the lockout doesn’t muck things up too badly and front offices have a lick of sense. Nene made 11.4 million dollars this season, and it will likely cost the Nuggets more than that to retain the 28-year old’s services.

Denver is being billed as a team that has succeeded without a superstar, but the truth is that Nene has been producing like a superstar this season, and will get paid like one next season. The only question is by whom.

  1. rapmusicmademedoit - Apr 4, 2011 at 5:59 PM

    Nene is leaving just like Melo, what the heck will he resign in Denver for, they can’t build a winner.

    • mojowheelz - Apr 4, 2011 at 10:13 PM

      Why would Nene leave? This can be his team now without the blackhole of basketball (aka Melo). He has already stated he would like to resign with the Nuggets, and see no reason he would want to leave with all of the great team play they are experiencing. Not all players want to go to a NY or Miami, because they like to remain humble and stay loyal to the team that has invested so much into them, not only in their development as a player, but also when their life has been tough…like early career injuries and cancer…Denver has been in the playoffs the last 7 years and the team has tried all sorts of things to get better and build a winner by adding AI, Chauncy, etc…so where is the proof that Denver is not committed to building a winner.
      Rap music may have made you an idiot…so listen to something different and get smarter….and stop drinking that NYC Kool AID (hahaha)

  2. dysraw1 - Apr 4, 2011 at 7:30 PM

    nene with out doubt is on the cusp of being elite. the right enviroment could change that. he does work in denver, but i believe he could be greater playing for somebody like doug collins

  3. dankyb - Apr 4, 2011 at 10:08 PM

    you conveniently forgot to mention his 7.6 rebounds per game

    • thestudiokida - Apr 4, 2011 at 10:54 PM

      I agree. Nene is not an elite anything. He’s good compared to the other garbage at center in the league. Honestly he is like a better Boris Diaw. A guy with all sorts of skills but who can’t do it consistently.

  4. borderline1988 - Apr 4, 2011 at 11:55 PM

    Ya I would have to agree with you.

    Nene is a quality centre who can really run the pick & roll and is generally fairly versatile on the offensive end. Those kind of guys are rare in this league, which is why he will demand good money when he is a free agent.

    But there are 2 problems with labelling him ‘elite':
    1) He is not a creator. You cannot dump the ball to him on the low block 15 times a game and expect him to take his defender. Fact is, he is nothing more than a fantastic complimentary player on the offensive end. He has practically the same game as Hakeem Warrick, except he’s bigger and stronger which is why he’s more efficient.

    2) Rebounding at under 8rbg. Everyone has been loading up on Bosh for his poor rebounding, but even he is averaging close to 9 rbg. How can a true centre be elite when he’s averaging less than 8rbg? Pedestrian for a full-time centre.

    Again Nene is a quality centre who will demand attention, mostly b/c there are few other decent true centres in this league. Most teams would demand his services But labelling him elite is completely ridiculous. He doesn’t hold a candle to Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum.

    And I would take guys like Noah or Perkins over him anyday. For the extra 3-6 ppg, you get better rebounding, and much, much better defense.

  5. mrmilstead - Apr 5, 2011 at 1:09 AM

    Nene is solid not elite. He is not capable of taking games over at will. All the advanced stats in the world won’t change that.

  6. hnirobert3 - Apr 5, 2011 at 9:25 AM

    There is one elite center in the league and that’s Howard. The others, like Bynum, Randolph, Nene, etc. are good but missing that “game changer” part of their game, like Howard has on both offense and defense.

  7. rajbais - Apr 6, 2011 at 3:41 PM

    After Kurt posted that, Barkley started rolling over in his grave.

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