The proud owner of one of the best performances in Houston Rockets playoffs history is back in the fold for the 2017-2018 season.
Last year, in Game 4 of the first-round against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Nene went a perfect 12-12 shooting from the floor to pour in 28 points and 10 rebounds in 25 minutes of action. He was a man among boys in that game, and he led the Rockets to a 113-109 win and a 3-1 lead in the series that put Houston in total command.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, Nene would go down for the year just a few games later in the San Antonio Spurs series, but his playoff play was the cherry on top of what was a fine season for the veteran big man.
Nene averaged 9.1 points and 4.2 rebounds on the year, which becomes all the more impressive when you realize he did it in just 17 minutes per game. The Rockets carefully managed the 35-year-old’s minutes and sat him during second games of back-to-backs in an effort to keep him healthy and fresh for the long haul. He almost made it.
But Nene did average a career-high 61.7 percent shooting from the field, and he was a perfect component to this Rockets team, bringing a steady, professional presence and some much-needed muscle to the roster.
If you look at his per-36s of 18.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks, to go along with that pristine shooting percentage and a positive defensive rating, the full scope of Nene’s impact begins to come into focus.
And the best part? We can likely expect something similar out of the man from Brazil this season as well.
He’s fully recovered from the groin injury, and head coach Mike D’Antoni has said that Nene looks ready to pick right back up where he left off, recently telling the Houston Chronicle:
"Nene hasn't played for six months, but he hasn't missed a beat. He's right back. He looks good ... He may go a little less (in some practices). I told him today, his program is to go four or five more years. We want to be careful, make sure he gets through ... well. But he's way ahead of where I thought. I thought he wouldn't do training camp. He's doing well. Our training staff is really good and Nene, he stayed here all summer, did the rehab. He's in a good place right now."
That was reaffirmed in Monday night’s win over the Knicks, when Nene helped lead the Rockets to their third straight preseason victory. He finished with just 5 points, 3 boards and 2 assists, but he was a blistering +21 in only 14 minutes of action.
He was also a key component in the Houston defensive wall lineup, playing alongside Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, and Luc Mbah a Moute with James Harden handling the rock. That group really helped push the Rockets over the top against New York with a 12-0 run in the first half that got the game under control for Houston.
So when the regular season starts next week, you can expect the Nene we all know and love to step right back in to helping lead the bench unit.
Yes, his minutes will be limited again, and he’ll be rested on back-to-backs, but he played in 67 games last season, and we can likely expect something similar again this season.
His numbers may even go down slightly. With so much offensive firepower on this year’s Rockets, D’Antoni just needs him to do what he’s best at: play hard-nosed defense, pass well out of the high post, and anchor the team with a veteran presence.
Nene signed a three-year, $11 million deal with the Rockets this past offseason, which just goes to show that if the team continues to be careful with his workload and manage his minutes and nights off, that Nene has plenty left in the tank to contribute to any potential championship run.