Should The Nuggets Keep Nene?


Since the season ended nearly two months ago, one of the most heated debates among Denver Nuggets fans has been what to do with the Nene; the team’s often criticized but non-expendable big man.

There are two very differing sides, and just by reading the paper Tuesday you will see two very different opinions (Pro-Nene and Anti-Nene). On one side there are those that believes that resigning Nene should be the Nuggets top priority, which it seems the Nuggets front office agrees. But on the other side of the spectrum is the fans that believe the Nuggets can do better – especially for Nene’s asking price.

No doubt I am bias, I have been a Nene advocate since Day 1 (and I’d really rather not rename my dog after five years of going by ‘Nene The Dog’). However, I do understand the frustration with Nene and do believe his asking price is a little high but the bottom line is the Nuggets are a better team with him – than without him.

That doesn’t mean fans are wrong for getting frustrated with his less than stellar effort, but there are a number of inaccurate statements that tend to be associated with Nene.

  • He’s soft’
    THE TRUTH: Nene isn’t going to be confused with Charles Oakley on the basketball court, but calling him soft is a little much. The guy went toe-to-toe against Kendrick Perkins and didn’t back down. In fact, in the playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder when it was practically him vs. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins he did a pretty admirable job.
  • He doesn’t have heart’
    THE TRUTH: Another opinionated statement. Still not sure how to respond, but how and where does one come up with that statement? Is it because he doesn’t dive on the floor after each rebound or maybe because he doesn’t demand the ball on each possession?
  • ‘Nene is the reason the Nuggets lost in the playoffs’
    THE TRUTH: False, the Nuggets lost because they don’t match up well with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are just the better team – for now. The Nuggets, on the other hand, are a fairly inexperienced team, with five key players making their first or second playoff appearance.
    Nene, in fact, put them in position to win Game 1. He was arguably the best player on the floor (outside of Kevin Durant) and dominated the Thunder bigs with a variety of moves before finishing with 22 points and eight rebounds. After that game the Thunder adjusted to his style and took to the Hack-A-Nene approach that the Utah Jazz took in the 2010 playoffs. Despite that, Nene actually put up a rather modest playoff line, averaging 14.2 points and 9 rebounds.
  • ‘Nene plays scared’
    THE TRUTH: Another opinionated statement. However, one issue with Nene’s game is he tends to get frustrated and it takes him out of the game. And it leads to bonehead plays from time-to-time, like kicking at Glen Davis and getting into it with Perkins, Andrew Bynum and Louis Amundson.
  • ‘Nuggets can get a better player in free agency’
    THE TRUTH: False, who can the Nuggets get in free agency? Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan and Tyson Chandler are more than likely resigning with their teams. David West is undersized, recovering from a major knee surgery and is 30-years-old. After that your best option is Samuel Dalembert, who will demand a fair share of money for an inconsistent effort. Greg Oden and Yao Ming aren’t even guaranteed to play again. There are smaller big men like Chuck Hayes and Kris Humphries available, but they won’t take less money to come to Denver. Humphries is a great rebounder and wants to get paid especially after doing his work on the glass. Hayes is a good role player to have on your team, but being 6-foot-5 he is constantly getting overpowered by bigger players. After that your best options are Nazr Mohammed and Joel Pryzbilla.
  • ‘Nene doesn’t play well against the best big man in the NBA.’
    THE TRUTH: Again false, Nene was solid against big man like Dwight Howard and Kevin Love and actually played better against Amar’e Stoudemire, Blake Griffin and dominated Gasol in their three matchups.
  • ‘Nene shoots too many jump shots.
    THE TRUTH: Far from it. Among the top 35 big men in the NBA, Nene ranks seventh on outside shooting usage. Just 17 percent of his shots come from the outside, and only Howard, Al Horford, JaVale McGee, Greg Monroe, Bynum and Emeka Okafor relied less on the jump shot. However, percentage-wise he was 13th in makes, hitting 44 percent of his jump shots. In fact, 75 percent of Nene’s shots came from inside the restriction area, second to only Monroe.

Scouting Report

  • Very few big men in the NBA have the combination of Nene’s size, speed and athleticism. He gets at least one or two baskets just by beating the opposing bigs down the floor. Combine that with a wide array of improved post moves and he scores at least 10 points a game – easily. When his mind is right he can go for 20 points a night, but many times he’ll defer to his teammates. He is a very good passing big man, who has a knack for finding teammates for three-pointers or cutting to the basket. Back when Andre Miller was here originally, Nene and Miller mastered a give-and-go that usually resulted in an easy two points. Many fans get frustrated with this unselfish mentality, but coaches love an unselfish big man.
  • In a way, he is a poor man’s Karl Malone, who gets by on defense with his quick hands and by taking charges. Offensively, he is at his best in the pick-and-roll. He has gigantic hands and rarely drops a pass. He is a one of the few players who is still peaking late in his career – mainly because he dealt with so many injuries when he was younger. He shoots at a very high percentage and rarely takes a bad shot. On the right team, he’d be very valuable, especially somewhere where he can play his more natural position at power forward.
  • He is not a go-to guy, and isn’t somebody you can depend on in clutch situations. Doesn’t demand the ball as much as fans may like. An average rebounder, who as George Karl puts it a good ‘zone rebounder.’ Won’t fight for rebounds, which again frustrates fans. Sometimes he’ll lay the ball up instead of dunking it. Not a great help-defender near the basket, partly due to the lack of lateral lift. Gets lost at times on offense, and if he doesn’t touch the ball consistently he’ll become complacent – which usually leads to him being subbed out. Used to be a great offensive rebounder before he tore his ACL and battled testicular cancer. After his bout with cancer he became more of a finesse player.

Is he worth $12 million a year?

At first look and what casual viewer will say is definitely no. And they may be right, compared to 13 similar players (below), Nene was below average nearly across the board. A deal for $10 to $11 million seems more justifiable – but that just isn’t likely.

Nene               FA                       14.5        7.6                          2.09                       .615
Al Horford    $12.2 million        15.3        9.3                          1.81                        .557
Elton Brand  $17.06                  15           8.4                          2.45                        .512
A Bogut         $12.1                    12.8        11.1                        3.3                          .495
C Kaman       $12.2                    12.4        7                              2                              .471
Chris Bosh    $16.02                  18.7        8.3                          1.41                        .496
Al Jefferson  $14                        18.6        9.7                          2.43                        .496
E Okafor       $12.54                   10.3        9.5                          2.32                        .496
C Boozer       $13.5                      17.5        9.6                          1.07                        .517
A Bynum      $15.16                   11.3        9.4                          2.31                        .574
David Lee     $11.61                   16.5        9.8                          1.43                        .507
Luis Scola     $8.59                      18.3        8.2                          1.24                        .504
Paul Millsap  $6.7                        17.3        7.6                          2.27                        .531
L Odom         $8.9                        14.4        8.7                          1.31                        .53
AVERAGE    $12.4 million        15.2        8.9                          1.96                        .521

The Nuggets have until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday to work out an extension with him. And no doubt they want to get a deal done before the lockout goes into effect and Nene becomes a free agent. However, it is really up to him. If he decides to opt for free agency it doesn’t necessary mean he won’t sign with the Nuggets, it just means they will have to bid against other teams for his services – which may be cheaper for the Nuggets since so few teams in the NBA have cap room. However, it doesn’t stop the fact that he is the most prized player in free agency, which means a team would be willing to overpay for his services.

And if Nene departs the Nuggets it would leave a lot of uncertainties to Denver’s frontcourt and a big void that may not be filled. It would force them to overpay to keep Kenyon Martin or even overpay for West’s services. It also means they would have to rely heavily on second-year center Timofey Mozgov, who undoubtedly will have growing pains.