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Statistical Query: Why Am I A Nene-Sayer?

One potential free agent target for the Pacers, mentioned frequently in Fan Posts, is Nene Hilario. I responded negatively to several of those posts, saying I didn't think Nene would be ideal for the Pacers. Glenn A. sent me an email asking me to elaborate. Setting aside the question of whether Nene would actually be willing to sign with Indiana, my concerns focus on cost and fit.

Most of the Fan Posts suggesting Nene, have been built around the idea that he could transition to power forward and play alongside Roy Hibbert.  The consensus among many here at Indy Conrows, seems to be that the Pacers need a Dale-Davis-style rebounder and shot-blocker to be a defensive presence on the interior. I certainly wouldn't be opposed to adding a player in that mold, but before we push that to the top of the list of off-season priorities, I'd like to point out two statistics. The first is 61.2%. That's the FG% the Pacers allowed their opponents on shots at the rim. It was the 4th best mark in the league this season. Only Boston, Milwaukee and Miami were better. The other statistic is 74.1%. That was the Pacers' Defensive Rebound Percentage this season and it ranked them 15th in the league. The Pacers don't have a single player who fits that Dale Davis template, but as a team they did a fairly good job of mitigating it. They could certainly improve in both departments, but I wouldn't characterize either as an area of weakness.

My plan for answering Glenn was to put together some statistics showing the Nene hasn't been effective as a power forward. I wasn't able to find any numbers to back up that assertion, mostly because he hasn't really played power forward. The past three seasons he has played center exclusively. The three seaons prior to that he played some power forward alongside Marcus Camby, but we have a tiny sample size since he only played 81 games over those three seasons.

Throughout NBA history there are plenty of examples of successful teams employing "twin towers" in the front court. The most successful recent examples I can think of are the David Robinson/Tim Duncan Spurs, and the Ralph Sampson/Hakeem Olajuwon Rockets. In each case both players were exceptional athletes. I don't think that would be the case with a Nene/Hibbert combination. Nene is very athletic for center. However, those advantages wouldn't be nearly as distinct when matched up with opposing power forwards. Having him regularly play on the perimeter, and have to defend pick-and-rolls and stretch fours, seems like it would be asking for trouble.

Now, I'm not completely opposed to Nene. I just don't think playing him at power forward for any extended stretch of time is realistic. While I have concerns about his value versus the cost; if he can be had for a reasonable price he would be fine with me as a center. This of course opens another can of worms. Pacers' fans will need to ask themselves this summer whether Roy Hibbert really is viable as a starting center. He was brutally bad for long stretches this season, including in the playoffs. I've pointed this out more than once, but the Pacers actually outscored the Bullsby a significant magin when Hibbert was on the bench.

Brett Hainline at Queen City Hoopshas created a Player Swap tool. You simply swap out one player for another, and a statistical projection is made for the effect on the team's win total. This tool projects that switching out Roy Hibbert for Nene this seasonwould have resulted in 16.6 more wins for the Pacers. You read that right, replacing Hibbert with Nene might have made them a 53 win team. I think this addresses the root problem. Much of the free agent discussion here at Indy Cornrows has focused on getting help at the power forward position. That may not be the proper frontcourt slot to be focusing attention on. As hard as this is to say, instead of finding impact centers who might be able to play alongside Hibbert, the Pacers might be better off finding an impact center who can take Hibbert's starting slot.