Memo to the Denver Nuggets: Get. Nene. The Ball.

[Note: Originally Posted 01-07-2009 at 10:15 AM by DenButsu]

As anybody who hasn’t been living in a media vacuum for the past couple of days already knows, Carmelo Anthony will be out for at least three weeks with a fractured hand. There’s a very singular, clear point I want to make here: The Denver Nuggets just absolutely must get Nene more looks at the basket. Whether Melo had been injured or not, this point would still stand. But now it becomes more pertinent than ever, as the Nuggets enter a stretch of at least 10 and possibly more games in which they’ll be seeking answers to the question of how to put points on the board without their leading scorer. The signs are obvious, and they all point in the same direction:

Get. Nene. The Ball.

For the past three years, Nene had been a storm brewing up in a bottle, with the lid kept tightly on by injuries and cancer for much of that time. But this season, after spending the summer doing intensive rehabilitation and conditioning in Denver rather than spending most of his time in his native Brazil as was his usual practice, the tempest has been unleashed, and the Nuggets big man is beasting.

Consider these statistics:

-Nene has been leading the league in field goal percentage for what appears to me to have been the entire season, currently putting them in at a rate of 62.5%.

-He has also been battling it out with Dwight Howard all season long for the lead in dunks, holding first place for much of that time, but currently in 2nd at 71 for the season.

-Nene is incredibly efficient and effective player. He leads the team in points per field goal attempt, at 1.63. His PER is 19.94, second on the Nuggets only to Chauncey Billups’ 20.61.

-The Nuggets are 18-5 (.783) when Nene puts up 8 or more field goal attempts, but just 6-6 (.500) when he tries for 7 or fewer.

And yet in spite of all this, Nene remains 5th on Denver’s roster in field goal attempts, at 9.1 per game, or 11% of the team’s total. And while these numbers alone justify dishing the ball his way more often, anybody who has watched the Nuggets closely this season will know this contention is also supported by plain old what’s been working and what hasn’t. The most effective half court sets the Nuggets run are pick and rolls with Billups and Nene or Melo and Nene. When they’ve built up big leads and dominated other teams, Nene with those P&Rs and also with his formidable post play has consistently been a factor. And when they’ve let teams get back into games or let them slip away from them for long stretches, much more often than not it’s been due to an all-around fall back by the team to settle for possessions featuring poor ball movement and ending in difficult jumpers, rather than making that extra effort to get the ball to Nene in the post where he can make stronger plays to the basket.

Getting Nene more shots is a practice than should continue when and long after Melo returns from injury. But as the Nuggets enter this critical time in the season which ultimately could make or break a division lead and that all important playoff seeding, now more than ever George Karl and Nene’s teammates must do what it takes to get the ball into the big man’s hands more often than they have been so far.


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