James Harden hasn’t played with Nene for long, but the veteran has made an impression on the Rockets star.
“He is my mentor, believe it or not,” Harden said after the Rockets 113-109 game four win in Oklahoma City Sunday. “I watch him every single day do some work. He’s in the weight room. He’s doing a lot of the right things to get his body and mind right to go out there to compete at a high level every single night.”
As he finishes his 15th NBA season, the seventh pick of the 2002 NBA draft knows that he’s an example for his younger teammates.
“I’m one of the first to get here and the last to leave the arena,” he said when asked about Harden’s mentor statement the day before. “I do a lot of things, take care of myself, take care of my body to feel fresh, when I can, and that’s what the young fellas look (at), the vet, his actions.”
Nene signed a 1-year, $2.9 million deal with the Rockets July 20, two weeks after most prominent free agents signed their deals. He played in 67 regular season games for the Rockets, averaging 9 points, and 4 rebounds per game in 17 minutes. That production has gone up in the four games against the Thunder, capped by Sunday’s monster 28-point, 12-rebound performance where he made all 12 of his field goal attempts.
“He had an unbelievable night, stepped up so big (Sunday),” Rockets forward Ryan Anderson said Monday. “He’s a great guy, a great leader. He’s a guy that you can really look up to in his career, a real professional, works really hard, takes care of his body.”
Thus far, Nene is playing 21 minutes per game against Oklahoma City, and averaging 13.5 points, and 6.5 rebounds, but he has only missed 2-of-25 shots from the field, and has supplanted Clint Capela as the Rockets crunch-time center.
“For him to come in and have such an impact like he did last game and has had in this series, and all year, really, it’s really impressive,” Anderson said.
Eight years ago, Nene was the starting center on a team that finished two wins short of the NBA Finals, but at 35 years old, he’ll never have the same impact he once did, but even before carrying the Rockets to a win Sunday, he’s been more then they could’ve asked for.