Nene Hilario 2012-13 Season Preview: Is the Wizards' Star Center on the Decline?

Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Nene Hilario has been one of the NBA's top centers for years, but Father Time and injuries could limit his production. What does 2013 have in store for the Brazilian big man?

The Washington Wizards need Nene Hilario to be good. He doesn't necessarily need to be great, but mediocrity from Nene would be devastating for the Wizards. The acquisition of the former Denver Nugget cost Washington both a young big man who has a good shot at making multiple All-Star teams, as well as a great deal of the team's salary cap flexibility as John Wall reaches the end of his rookie contract. In short, the frequently-injured veteran needs to buck the odds and maintain a high level of productivity well into his 30s in order to ensure Wall has the kind of winning teammates necessary to keep him in DC.

Nene isn't particularly big or a great shooter, but he's extremely skilled - some of his closest comparables include combo forwards Andrei Kirilenko and Gerald Wallace, as well as high basketball IQ big men Anderson Varejao and Brad Miller - and has elite quickness for a center. He's currently battling plantar fasciitis and just turned 30, though, so there's a decent chance he loses a step on both ends of the court. He largely struggled in Denver, but was an elite player on both ends of the court in his short stint in Washington. While the player the Nuggets saw would be an adequate starting center for most teams, Washington is going to need far more from him if the team is to have any hope of making its first playoff appearance since 2008.

Offense: Nene is an extremely effective offensive player, primarily due to his ability to move without the ball, finish around the rim, and find open teammates. While he's not a natural post up player, Washington used him in that role far more than Denver with decent results (0.89 points per possession on post ups with Washington last year, as per MySynergySports). With the acquisition of Emeka Okafor and continuing development of Kevin Seraphin, Nene is likely to see more minutes at power forward than at center this season, which should lead to even more opportunities to utilize his post game against smaller players.

The one part of his game that he could improve is his jumper. Nene made a respectable 38.5% of his mid-range shots last year according to NBA.com/stats, but Washington's lack of a jump shooting big man coupled with increased playing time at power forward could lead to a far greater proportion of Nene's field goal attempts coming outside of the paint.

Defense: Nene's always been a great defensive player, but individual statistics don't even begin to do him justice. Washington's defense had been terrible for years, but improved dramatically once Nene replaced Javale McGee. The Wizards surrendered 12.4 fewer points per 100 possessions with Nene on the court, and MySynergySports ranked him the 9th best defensive player in the entire league during his limited time with the team last year. Playing next to a veteran defensive ace in Okafor, athletic and willing help defenders in Jan Vesely and Kevin Seraphin, and wing stoppers Trevor Ariza and Chris Singleton, Nene should be a key cog on one of the NBA's best defensive front courts this year.

While Nene has been the recipient of some criticism for his relatively modest rebounding numbers (more a result of his tendency to leave the paint while chasing perimeter players than a lack of effort or skill), the Wizards rebounded far better with him on the court than they did with Seraphin or McGee at center and Denver was always one of the league's better rebounding teams while he was on the court. He's not going to lead the league in rebounding, but he boxes out properly and should be a net positive in this department.

Outlook: Nene has been one of the league's best big men for years, and the coming season should be no exception. Unfortunately for Washington, he's at an age where big men who aren't particularly tall or good shooters tend to decline, something his projected statistics predict. It would be in the team's best interest to keep his minutes low in order to preserve his longevity, but even if he's playing 38 minutes a night, he'll be an extremely efficient offensive player and a beast on the defensive end.

Best Case Scenario: Anchors the paint for one of the NBA's top defenses, scores often and efficiently while playing within the flow of the offense, makes his first All-Star team, and helps Wall lead Washington to the playoffs.

Worst Case Scenario: Injuries and age catch up to him as he provides league average play while Washington misses out on the playoffs.

Statistics, Per 36 Minutes

Season

FGA

FG%

3PA

3P%

FTA

FT%

ORB

TRB

AST

STL

BLK

PTS

02-03

9.9

51.9%

0.0

0.0%

5.4

57.8%

3.3

7.8

2.4

2.0

1.0

13.4

03-04

9.1

53.0%

0.0

0.0%

5.1

68.2%

2.2

7.2

2.4

1.7

0.6

13.1

04-05

10.6

50.3%

0.1

0.0%

5.8

66.0%

2.8

8.9

2.3

1.4

1.3

14.4

05-06

12.0

0.0%

0.0

0.0%

0.0

0.0%

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

06-07

10.8

57.0%

0.0

0.0%

5.9

68.9%

3.1

9.4

1.6

1.3

1.2

16.4

07-08

9.6

40.8%

0.1

0.0%

6.6

55.1%

4.1

11.8

2.0

1.2

1.9

11.5

08-09

10.2

60.4%

0.1

20.0%

5.3

72.3%

2.6

8.6

1.5

1.4

1.4

16.1

09-10

9.4

58.7%

0.0

0.0%

5.4

70.4%

2.2

8.2

2.7

1.5

1.1

14.8

10-11

10.3

61.5%

0.1

20.0%

6.3

71.1%

2.3

9.0

2.3

1.3

1.1

17.1

11-12

12.7

53.7%

0.1

0.0%

5.4

67.3%

2.0

9.4

2.6

1.4

1.2

17.4

12-13 (projected)

12.7

53.7%

0.0

0.0%

4.6

65.4%

1.9

9.3

2.5

1.4

1.2

15.6

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