Photo: Keith Allison from Owings Mills, USA / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)
In less than three minutes of work, a promising NBA youngster etched his name in the worst type of record books. Like using @here in a company-wide Slack channel, it takes one small action to alter your career forever. Nenê Hilário knows the feeling.
Nenê began his career as a young big for the tanking Denver Nuggets. He started 77 games for the team in his second year, averaging 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds. His third year saw a reduction in playing time and production, with Nenê Hilário playing nearly ten minutes less per game.
Per ESPN, Denver turned down their chance to extend Nenê in the offseason, and Nenê needed a career season in year four before hitting the open market.
Instead, he set the wrong kind of record in just the first game of the season.
Thanks to Basketball Reference, we can track Nenê’s bad day at the office blow by blow. He enters the game in the first quarter, and all hell breaks loose after.
- 4:50: Nenê checks into the game
- 4:31: Nenê fouls Tim Duncan
- 3:43: Nenê misses a shot from 4 feet out
- 3:30: Nenê turns the ball over on a three second violation
- 2:28: Nenê turns the ball over
- 2:17: Nenê suffers a gruesome season-ending knee injury
In these two and a half minutes of game-time, Nenê Hilário goes 0-1 with two turnovers and a foul on 54.5% usage. Accordingly, these stats all contribute to PER, John Hollinger’s catch-all statistic that tries to capture player value holistically.
Since 2000, the league average sits at 13.2. By design, an average NBA player will produce a PER around 15. This graph highlights the distribution of PER scores after adjusting for games played; only a select few superstars like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo reach the 30 PER threshold.
Nenê Hilário’s season? A little bit outside.
A night to forget
His numbers in that fateful night combined to produce a PER of -54.4, the second worst season-long mark in Basketball Reference’s database.
Tell me if you can spot which season we’re referencing on this graph of his entire career.
Nenê’s season ended brutally, and the ESPN news story on his injury pulled exactly zero punches. Read this line in your best overdramatic political attack ad voice.
Nene came into the season not only as a power forward on the verge of a breakout year, but also as one of Denver’s most valuable commodities on the trade market.
One game into the season, he is no longer either of those.
In the end, no breakout, no trade, but a legendarily bad data point.
somehow, Nenê Hilário is still not the unluckiest
You may have noticed that Nenê’s season took second place on this cursed list. The poor soul with the worst season among eligible candidates? 7’7” center Gheorghe Mureșan.
His entry needs a bit of backstory.
The moribund New Jersey Nets would end the lockout 1998-99 season 16-34, and, right before the season ended, signed Mureșan for the final three games. According to the New York Times, the Nets gambled on the giant and lock down a center of the future.
I think that the relationship is such that New Jersey will be an attractive place for him, said John Nash, the Nets’ general manager. It’s a relatively small investment on our part in an effort to try and gain some real size. No pun intended. This is as big as you can get.
Even Mureșan himself did not share that optimism, revealing to the New York Post that he doubted he’d be able to produce much.
Center Gheorghe Mureșan would love to make his Nets debut tonight, but there is a risk involved. The 7-7 Romanian, signed for the final two games by the Nets who hope to lure him back for next season, has not played in two seasons. “I am not 100 percent. I cannot do a lot. I’d love to play but I don’t know. It can be a risk if I play,” he said. “I cannot find the right words.”
Yet, late into the fourth quarter of the final game of the year, Mureșan checked in. He immediately turned the ball over, missed his only shot, and ended his season in sixty-nine seconds of action.
In that time, Mureșan produced an all-time worst -90.6 PER, nearly twice as miserable as Nenê ‘s output.
Imagine telling the press before the game that you shouldn’t play, that there’s a ton of risk and you aren’t ready, and then in the minute-plus you do play, you somehow end up with the worst season of all time.
Mureșan isn’t the only Net that couldn’t catch
We end with the tragicomic tale of one final Nets player. These fun, small-sample size results may just be noise, and often happen in one short game; Both Mureșan and Nenê combined for less than four minutes total in their two unlucky seasons, and neither year will be remembered in any career retrospective for the players beyond a brief aside.
However, for Mile Ilić, his entry on the all-time worst PER list captured his entire career.
Ilić, a second-round draft pick shrouded by the typical mystique and intrigue of a little-known international prospect, joined the Nets in 2006 with some hype and promise. He played five games in the 2006-07 NBA season, per Basketball Reference, and these five unfortunate appearances ended up being the entirety of his time in the league.
In these fives games, Ilić played six minutes, missed all three of his shots, snagged one rebound, and turned the ball over three times—these metrics produce a career PER of -48.6.
Even among outliers, Ilić stands alone with his five appearances. Accordingly, no one in this quadrant of statistical ineptitude played more than three games.
Adjust his averages to 36 minutes, and Ilić ends up with a line of 0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 blocks, 0 steals, and 26.3 turnovers; in fantasy terms, he’s dropping negative 17.5 points per game.
A perfect fit for the Warm the Bench all-stars.
Ilić did go on to carve out a lengthy and still-active basketball career outside of the NBA, but for our purposes, he’s an answer to the world’s worst trivia question.