NBA Wizards 

With Nene out for 4-6 weeks, the Wizards need to find answers fast

After about 20 hours or so of heartache, fear, worry and curiosity, Wizards fans can finally breathe now that they know the extent of the injury that Nene suffered during last night’s Cavaliers game. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported that Nene will miss four to six weeks with an MCL sprain in his left knee.

While Wizards fans should take solace in knowing that Nene doesn’t have a torn ACL as many in the organization had originally feared, all of their worries haven’t dissipated. Nene won’t have the strenuous, grueling rehab that an ACL tear comes with and next season he should be 100% coming into the year. But the real worry here is that the Wizards now have to depend on a front court combination of Marcin Gortat and either Trevor Booker of Kevin Seraphin.

While both of them have proven to be suitable options coming off of the pine this season, neither of them really provide what the team will miss with Nene off of the court. Both present some type of issue that the Wizards will struggle to play their way around during this stretch.

Trevor Booker will probably get the starting nod because of his previous experience starting this season. Although that stint yielded some positive results, most of that was because Nene was the stabilizing force for the Wizards’ bench. With Booker and Gortat as the Wizards front court combination, the Wizards have an offensive rating of 105.4 but have a defensive rating of 107.1. For a team currently fighting to maintain playoff position and finish with a record above .500, that isn’t really a positive sign.

As a two man combination, Gortat and Booker aren’t bad offensively. The sample is a healthy one of 520 minutes–not the most but something that gives us a solid look into the combination. What’s most troubling here is the lack of defensive stability. The Wizards have a defensive rating of 102.0. When those two are in combination in any lineup, the Wizards defensive rating gets 5.1 points worse.

Booker’s lack of size contributes to this. Although he’s a decent rebounder, he isn’t the biggest guy and he isn’t the one boxing people out. A whopping 3.6 of Booker’s 5.5 rebounds per game are uncontested. That’s because Booker has had the luxury of playing with Marcin Gortat and Nene who are two of the better box-out players in the league. Booker gives up a lot of size in the post and doesn’t have the lateral quickness to play large stints on the perimeter.

As for Kevin Seraphin, things may look a bit better with him starting in place of Nene. He and Gortat have a 101.6 offensive rating as a two-man unit, but their defensive rating is a stellar 83.8. The only caveat is that they’ve only played 77 minutes on the floor together. They looked good enough last night against Cleveland for it to be a possibility going forward.

In five man units featuring Seraphin and Gortat the Wizards look pretty decent. In units featuring John Wall, Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza along with those two starting in the front court, the Wizards have 112.1 offensive rating with a 99.2 defensive rating. That unit has only seen 10 games together, though, and only has 29 minutes played together.

With Wall, Ariza and Bradley Beal along with Seraphin and Gortat, the Wizards have a 117.0 offensive rating along with a 52.5 defensive rating. That sample is even smaller, having only played 18 minutes together in five games. Still, the staggering net rating there says that it’s worth a shot with Nene on the bench.

Seraphin with some spacing on the outside and some room down low to work isn’t a bad idea. According to Synergy Sports technology, Seraphin scores .88 points per possession when posting up. That’s a mark that ranks 50th in the league. It isn’t stellar, but it provides the Wizards with an option offensively without Nene’s versatility. They shouldn’t pound the ball down low, but if Seraphin serves as the fourth or final option on any given possession, it could work.

Most importantly, though, the Wizards may not give up a lot defensively. Although Seraphin whiffs more often than not on guard drives and ICE calls, he’s an adept rim protector who can make a difference. Opponents shoot 46.5% at the rim when Seraphin is on the floor. Seraphin’s 7-3 wing span makes him adept at disrupting drives and finishes. Although he struggles to get in proper position because of lack of defensive awareness, when he’s in the right place the results are pleasing.

The Wizards would still have offensive limitations with Seraphin on the floor because of his tendency to stop the ball in the post and turn the ball over when facing double teams. He’s improved his passing in recent months, but he still isn’t going to move the ball the way Nene does.

The Wizards were a team that ran a chunk of their offense through Nene by sending wings backdoor and utilizing dribble handoffs to create separation. Plays like this one are going to be weeded out of the Wizards’ offense with Nene on the bench.

Nene was one of the better passing big men in the league. Although he may not have gaudy assist numbers, he’s a really crafty passer. He was averaging 3.0 assists per game this season and 3.5 assists per 36 minutes. The Wizards used Nene on the block as a fulcrum for their offense. Take a look at this crafty pass to Andre Miller on a cut from last night’s Cavalier’s game. There aren’t many bigs in the NBA who could make this pass–let alone have the confidence that they’d get it there.

Nene’s offense will surely be missed, but the Wizards are going to miss his defending most of all. Although he’s a big body, Nene was never afraid to get out on the perimeter and disrupt pick and rolls. He played the passing lanes consistently and registered many steals because of it. The Wizards’ aggression on defense will be toned down plenty with Nene out of the lineup. Between Seraphin and Booker, the Wizards will need to play a more conservative, dropback style of basketball on defense.

If he wanted to, Randy Wittman could get really creative with his lineups and actually implement a few small ball lineups that stretch the floor. With Al Harrington back in the fold the Wizards get another shooter to put out on the frontline. But, in different situations, Trevor Ariza can play the power forward spot.

And the numbers suggest that this wouldn’t be problematic on either end, really. With Gortat, Ariza, Wall, Beal and Webster all in the game, the Wizards have a 112.0 offensive rating and a 93.8 defensive rating. The lineup has only seen about 29 minutes together in 10 contests, so the sample is small. But, again, the differential size makes it something that would be worth exploring.

The Wizards are extremely fortunate here because they have room to sign another big man to the roster in a pinch because of the Andre Miller trade last week. It sounds like Drew Gooden is on tap for the Wizards, according to Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Stein, but if he doesn’t pan out they can let him go and try again with another big.

Look, the Wizards are in a pinch here and there is no simple solution. They may suffer a few losses, but it’s a manageable situation. Nene was a crucial part to this team–the defense is a whopping 6.0 points better with him on the court than they are with him off. But the Wizards have one of the weakest schedules in the league today and they also play in the Eastern Conference where losing is a trend.

I’m not saying that the Wizards will tear the roof off of the building, but expectations shouldn’t be tempered too much because of this injury.

Statistical support was brought to you by NBA.com and their wonderful stat tools

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