Nene hasn’t received consistent minutes this season, but he has played well enough in the last two games to get more playing time.
The Houston Rockets had a gaping hole at center when Clint Capela missed about a month with a thumb injury earlier this season. Nene is great as a backup, but at this stage in his career, he can’t fill in and play starters minutes.
As a result, the Rockets looked at the free agent market for a center, and scored big when they signed Kenneth Faried. By moving him from power forward to center, Houston took away Faried’s lack of floor spacing, which was his biggest weakness as a power forward. Faried brings a lot of energy off the bench, he’s a great rebounder, and he’s athletic enough to play above the rim despite being undersized for a center.
With that being said, Mike D’Antoni has decided to mostly go with Nene over Faried in the last two playoff games, and the big man from Brazil hasn’t disappointed. Nene has scored 8 points on 3-3 shooting in each of his last two games in very limited minutes. He even grabbed 3 steals in just 13 minutes of play in Game 1 against the Warriors.
Nene isn’t as good as Capela at defending quicker players on the perimeter, nor is he an elite shot blocker, but his presence inside is always felt. In the regular season, the Rockets defense gave up just 101 points per 100 possessions when Nene was on the floor.
Since Nene joined the Rockets back in the 2016-17 season, he has had the best defensive rating of any Rockets player that has played at least 100 minutes in each of the last three seasons. He isn’t the most athletic big man at this stage in his career, but he knows how to get the job done.
Mike D’Antoni told the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen that Nene is still effective in spurts.
“It’s a man’s game and he’s a man. He’s effective for limited minutes. We have to be careful with him because we like for him to last the whole time. But he was good.”
If Capela continues to struggle against Golden State, the Rockets might try to get Nene on the court for 15-18 minutes a game going forward.