It's pretty well established by now that Nene wants to play for someone other than the Denver Nuggets after this year's lockout-shortened free agent frenzy, with the Golden State Warriors being one of the teams vying for his services.
With plenty of talk around here about Nene and how he might fit on the Warriors, Nate Timmons of SB Nation's Denver Stiffs offered to answer a few questions about the Brazilian big man that have popped up in various places on this site.
Nate Timmons: The biggest misconception surrounding Nene is that he's soft. He sure hasn't been quiet, publicly, about not liking the center position, but he also kept playing there night in and night out. He's a physical defender and has become better at protecting the rim, although he's not the best shot blocker around. On offense, he has an array of moves and a lot of them come from banging into his defender to get them guessing where he's going to go. He's extremely good at making defenders look silly.
At times he can look disinterested or perhaps tired and he plays best when he gets fired up, ask Lou Amundson how to do that. And when Nene gets angry, look out rim because he's coming to attack. Also, the knock that Nene isn't durable is also false. You can't really help it when you tear an ACL or get cancer. The past three seasons he's only missed 12 regular season games.
GSoM: There is some debate among Warriors fans about Nene's position - some would rather have him at PF than C; others don't even think he can play PF. We can all go and look at the stats about his production by position, but given what you've seen, what might the stats not tell us about his ability to move between PF and C?
NT: Power forward is Nene's original position. When the Nuggets traded Marcus Camby, for salary cap space, the Nuggets were forced to play Nene at center. The Nuggets played a quick style and Nene was the perfect guy for the position because his speed is pretty amazing. You will often see him out on the fast break and he has great hands to catch the long pass and incredible reach to finish above the rim off the break. He's an athletic freak.
Nene did bulk up a bit to play inside for the Nuggets, but he wants to go back to the power forward spot and his rebounding numbers would increase if he's allowed to do so. He's probably truly 6'9'', so going against Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard was also an issue for the Denver big guy. We're excited in Denver for the team to re-sign Nene and slide him to PF and put Timofey Mozgov and his 7'1'' frame in the middle. We're not sure if we'll get the chance to see Nene return to his natural position in Denver or not, but I do think teams with a PF opening have an edge over teams just looking for a center.
GSoM: What might be an area of improvement for Nene over the course of his career that people either underestimate or overlook as something that could stand out in a different situation?
NT: Nene's first few seasons in the league he didn't have much game away from the basket or near the basket. He depended heavily on his athleticism. When he tore his ACL in the first game of the 2005-06 season that gave Nene time to develop a jumper and he also came back with some great post moves. He made himself into a much better all-around player since coming to America from Brazil when he was just a 19 year-old kid.
GSoM: In what types of situations - in terms of personnel or style of play - do you think Nene would thrive? Conversely, in what situations might he struggle?
NT: The up-tempo style that Golden State ran in the past would fit Nene very well. He can also play in a half-court set. I don't know what Mark Jackson is planning on running out West, but Nene can adapt to any style.
If the Warriors are expecting to sign Nene as the first or second scoring option (not likely with Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry in tow) for the team, that isn't what he's accustomed to. Nene rarely takes over 12 shots in a game and will even start passing the ball out of the post when he feels he's taken over too much. It can be quite frustrating, but he's just that unselfish.
GSoM: Looking back on his career with the Nuggets, what will the team miss most about him, assuming he goes elsewhere?
NT: Nene would make a play or two during a game where you'd just be left speechless. His power dunks are some of the best in the league. Nene is now 29 years-old and he's been with the team for a decade. He'll be sorely missed in Denver if he leaves as he's the most familiar face on the team for life-long Nuggets fans. But some in Nuggets Nation wont miss what they perceive to be a soft nature and a guy who also left you wanting to see more.
GSoM: Nene is reportedly looking for something in the "neighborhood of maximum-contract territory". Given your opinion of him, does that seem spot on, too much, or a bargain for him?
NT: Nene stated back in 2009 that he wants to be retired by the 2016 Olympics. Nene has a love for basketball, but people have always questioned how committed Nene is to the game. He is in his prime right now; I expect to see 2-3 more high level seasons from Nene before we see any dropoff. A four-year contract near the max or a five year in a sign-and-trade should be Nene's last and it's sort of scary that he has part of a foot out the basketball door, but a guy can always change his mind. I don't expect Nene to be much better than he has been in Denver the past three seasons, but if you're looking for a guy who puts up a steady 12 points and 6 rebounds, he is your guy. He'll get you the occasional 20 points and 10 rebounds, but not on a nightly basis, it's just not who he is.