Apr 23, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Houston Rockets center Nene Hilario (42) react after a play against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the fourth quarter in game four of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
The physical Brazilian brought depth and toughness to the Rockets Bench. Though his first season in Houston was ended by injury, Nene performed at an excellent level all year.
With the departure of All-Star center Dwight Howard, the Houston Rockets knew they would need to search for a capable backup to rising center Clint Capela. That person ended up being the 15-year veteran, Nene. However, the experienced big man provided much more than leadership throughout the season. He would establish himself as a reliable replacement to Capela when he went down with an injury. He also brought great energy off the bench.
During the playoffs, Nene proved to be more valuable as his toughness and productivity off the bench helped the second unit. His experience and leadership helped propel the Rockets to a 55-win season and the number 3 seed in the Western Conference. He carried himself as a great professional and stood ready when his number was called upon. His toughness gave the Rockets a much-needed edge on the defensive end as he had no fear of being physical.
While it was hard to imagine how Nene would fit in Mike D’Antoni’s offense, he ended up providing great screen-and-roll offense and having amazing on court chemistry with superstar James Harden. Nene also provided a low post presence and drew defenders away from the perimeter shooters to aid the offense. His ability to find the open man fueled the Rockets 3-point shooting when he was on the floor.
D’Antoni managed Nene well during the regular season, giving him nights off and playing Montrezl Harrell on his rest days. It turned out to benefit the 34-year old center. Some of his best performances came in the postseason as a result of the monitored minutes and added rest days.
Let’s take a look at the impact Nene had during the 2016-2017 season.
Next: Overall Impact
May 7, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center Nene Hilario (42) dunks the ball during the first quarter against the San Antonio Spurs in game four of the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
The veteran big man brought more than just a physical post presence to the Houston Rockets.
Nene turned out to be just what the doctor ordered for the Houston Rockets. Nene added something the Rockets haven’t had consistently since Yao Ming. Mid-range shooting. While averaging 9.1 points per game, he shot around 38% from 10 to 16 feet and 39% from 16 to just inside the 3 point line. At the rim, Nene was clinical. He shot around 74% in the paint and that lead to the Rockets having an effective low post presence.
His offensive skill set didn’t end with his scoring ability. He was an able passer for those open 3-point shooters on the perimeter. The Rockets offense revolves around ball movement. Nene was great at finding the open man in stride or kicking it out when he didn’t have a good shot all season. His ability to set picks helped the Rockets tremendously and created many scoring opportunities.
The impact went a step further in the opening round of the playoffs. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Nene took his physicality and made life on the Thunder bigs tough. During the series, he averaged 13.6 points and 6.6 rebounds in 22 minutes per game. He punished the likes of Steven Adams, especially in Game 4 as we’ll see shortly.
Overall, Nene proved to be a great fit in D’Antoni’s high-octane system. His valuable minutes provided much-needed toughness and depth to the center position. In short, he wasn’t Amar’e Stoudemire, but Nene helped the Rockets run just like the Phoenix Suns of the mid-2000s. When needed, Nene was ready to produce. He’s not an everyday starter, but he is hardworking and an amazing professional.
Next: Best/Worst Moments
Apr 23, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; ;Houston Rockets center Nene Hilario (42) drives to the basket against Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) during the second quarter in game four of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Nene was certainly ready to play in the postseason for the Rockets.
Best moment: perfect night in Game 4 of round one against the Thunder.
By far, Nene’s shining moment was Game 4 of the Oklahoma City series. As previously mentioned, Nene bruised the Thunder interior for a perfect night. 12-for-12 from the field, a career-high 28 points and 10 rebounds in a comeback victory that eventually led to a series victory for the Rockets. He provided much-needed energy on a night where Harden would struggle shooting.
The performance drained Russell Westbrook as he could not rest on the bench for long stretches. It also allowed James Harden to get rest minutes and proved the Rockets firepower was too much for Westbrook to be on the bench. Nene pounded, rebounded and opened up the floor for the 3-pointers.
The second unit for the Rockets played outstanding and Nene lead the charge. His perfect night sparked the Rockets offense to a comeback victory and, more importantly, a 3-1 series lead.
Worst Moment: Season ending groin injury during West Semi-finals.
The loss of Nene threw the rotation off, and the Rockets eventually lost the series. His loss meant less physicality and more pressure on Capela.
The question now is what will the injury mean for Nene’s future as a Houston Rocket. Hopefully it wasn’t the last time we’ll see him in a Rockets uniform.
Despite the injury, Nene’s overall season was fun and refreshing to watch. He gave it his all and it showed all season long.
Next: Improvement areas for 2017-2018
Apr 23, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Houston Rockets center Nene Hilario (42) reacts to a play against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the fourth quarter in game four of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Nene was good on the floor, however, his free throws can still improve.
Make no mistake. Nene’s first season in Houston was great. He was physical and played his game. He provided energy on the floor and a veteran voice in the locker room.
However, his free throws still need some work. During his first season as a Rocket, Nene shot 58.1% from the line. A bit down from his career average of 66.1%.
As a team the Rockets shot 76.6% from the line, good for 20th in the league. The other two centers, Capela and Harrell, shot 53% and 62% respectively from the line. In order for the Rockets to succeed, Nene and the other two big men must improve from the charity stripe.
Assuming Nene returns next season, his health and free throw ability should be areas of focus. Next season Capela and Nene would face the likes of Adams and Deandre Jordan again. And let’s not forget the new twin towers in New Orleans, Demarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. If Nene can return healthy, it provides another body to go up against those big guys.
Free throws aside, Nene proved to be very valuable in Daryl Morey’s mad scientist experiment. He brings balance to an efficient offense. He provides size, depth, and a physical presence needed in the grueling Western Conference.
His approach to the game is one of a true professional and a winner. He embraces his role and comes ready to work. He brings a positive attitude to the locker room and can mentor Capela and Harrell.
Red Nation should be proud and hope Nene returns next season. If he does, I’d be excited to have him back. His style of play fits perfectly with the Rockets.
Here’s to Nene returning healthy and hopefully coming back to the Houston Rockets.
Next: Can the Rockets Stop the Warriors Next Season?