A few weeks ago, before training camp got underway, we took a look at what to expect from newcomer big man Nene Hilario and figured him for a good fit for the Rockets. The four preseason games are an incredibly small sample size, but at this early stage, he looks like the fit we expected.
Through the Rockets’ first four games, all wins, Nene has averaged around 13 minutes per game. This includes Wednesday’s 7-minute affair in China in which the Rockets gave their youngsters a significant amount of playing time over the established veterans.
He’s put up a nice box score in his limited minutes, scoring 8.7 points, grabbing 4 rebounds and dishing out 2 assists while shooting mostly lights out. The man from Brazil shot 14-21 from the field, good for 66.7 percent, and also knocked down 7-8 free throws (87.5 percent), which is quite the refreshing development for a recent Rockets big.
Extrapolate those numbers out to the additional minutes Nene is likely to play during the regular season, and we’re looking at stats possibly even better than what we expected. But perhaps even more important than just raw box scores, Nene just simply looks like a fit.
He looks comfortable in Mike D’Antoni’s system, is a natural up high, and appears equally at ease working alongside either of the Rockets’ playmaking guards James Harden and Eric Gordon.
His passing touch and his basketball IQ appear top notch, and both have been a pleasant surprise at this preseason stage. His scoring ability looks just as diverse as advertised and his rebounding looks better than anticipated.
Naturally, it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. He did foul out in 15 minutes of action in the first game against the Pelicans, and picking up quick fouls has been something he’s been prone to over the years, so we’ve already seen a glimpse of the that side of Nene. And he’s been unfortunately inconspicuous in the defensive counting stats, snagging just one steal and zero blocks in these first couple games.
But the early returns on the veteran have been overwhelmingly positive, perhaps even more so than we originally thought. Clint Capela likely still takes the majority of the minutes at center and Ryan Anderson is clearly the preferred option at the four, but Nene looks more than capable of holding down 20-25 minutes per night between the center and power forward positions. In fact, he looks like a downright weapon.
Now we just need to hope the 34-year-old’s notoriously injury-prone body holds up over the course of that type of work load. If it does, the Rockets have an exciting and versatile front line rotation, which is already a step up from last year.