One of the biggest concerns with Nene coming in to this season was health, but through careful management of his minutes and sitting him in the second game of back-to-backs, the Rockets were able to keep the veteran big man healthy for the vast majority of the season. It all came to a screeching halt in Game 4 of the second round of the playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs, when Nene was lost for the season with a ruptured groin muscle.
But don’t let that unfortunate end to Nene’s year fool you. The Brazilian center was a difference maker for the Rockets this season.
Nene finished the year averaging 9.1 points and 4.2 rebounds on 61.7 percent shooting in just 18 minutes per game. His shooting percentage was the highest mark of his career, and if you take a look at his per 36s (always worth a look for a guy not playing a ton of minutes), you’ll notice his 18.3 points per 36 is his highest total since the 2012 season.
He also played in 67 games, starting 8, which was tied for his most games played since 2011.
In addition, he had an important role as a veteran leader and supplied something the Rockets were in relative short supply of with his general badassery. Seriously, who messes with Nene? The guy is 34 and still looks like he could hold his own in a WWE battle royal.
He brought a physicality to the Rockets that they lacked elsewhere on the roster, save maybe Trevor Ariza, and combine that with his skill in the high post, ability as a passer, and potential to knock down an open jumper, and it made Nene an invaluable member of the Houston rotation.
He also saved his best work for the postseason. With the Oklahoma City Thunder holding an advantage in size and strength in the front court, Nene played perhaps his best stretch of ball of the year.
He averaged 13.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game during Houston’s 5-game win over the Thunder, which included a 28-point, 10-rebound affair in Game 4 in which he shot a perfect 12-12 in field goals. That performance will go down as one of the more memorable single-game Rockets playoff performances ever. It’s definitely somewhere in my top 20.
It was a different story against San Antonio, as Nene was less effective against the Spurs’ front line of LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol before his injury, but he was still one of the reasons the team won a surprising 55 games and made it as far as they did.
Nene’s contract is up, and he’s now an unrestricted free agent. With the news that his groin injury would not need surgery, Nene should be fully recovered to help someone next year. I say “should” because soon-to-be 35-year-old centers coming off of a ruptured groin is not the surest of bets, but all indications right now are that Nene should be fine.
It’s been rumored that he wants to return to Houston, and it’s also been said that the team does want him back, but at what price? Nene made just $2.8 million this past season, and despite the injury, he’s likely earned himself a raise this coming year. With rumors swirling that Rockets GM Daryl Morey is looking to make a big splash this summer in either trade or free agency, perhaps even looking at Chris Paul, salaries will need to be jettisoned.
So for the moment, that leaves Nene’s status up in the air, but expect that become clearer after the big dominoes fall this summer.