Popular culture and the American imagination (the same thing, you might argue) are obsessed with the "What If" question. We love options, hate to close proverbial doors and demand to have burgers any way we want it while only wanting it one way. There are rare instances where we get to find out the answer to our idle musings, maybe find out whether or not we made the right choice. After all, even in instances where the logic is completely on our side, we still wonder what would have happened if we had turned right instead of left.
The lockout is affording that opportunity to a number of our guys. Don't get me wrong, I'm not demanding anyone set a shining example in this age of unlimited Xbox. However, we're often reminded of just how young our players really are. They come into the NBA pressure cooker and survive or flame out. Usually, it's such an intense, ongoing challenge that there isn't much free time. And no, I don't think time on the road with nothing else to do counts. A vacation from strategic focus for the kind of high-character youth Ted Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld are bringing in has its risks, but it's not all bad.
An enforced diaspora from the mecca of the NBA is the chance to answer that "what if?" It's the chance for these guys to find out they've been making the right choices and get a sense of closure that will leave them that much more mature when pro ball rolls around again. There are several young Wizards standing to benefit from the renewed commitment to their goals such catharsis can provide.
But there's one I'm watching in particular: Kevin Seraphin
When I look hard and try to decide which of our players stands to benefit most and who, indeed, has already benefited most, I don't see another choice besides Seraphin. The draft consensus on Seraphin could be summed up in three words: raw, tough, and talented. There were rumors his team, Cholet, was displeased when he declared for the draft, purportedly believing him still in need of development.
These rumors no doubt prompted questions of D-league assignments for Kevin, but he and his agent were ahead of the game. They believed he would develop faster under the direct tutelage of the coaching staff and won a concession in his contract: no D-league assignments.
Many attributed inconsistencies in his rookie campaign to lingering complications of a knee injury sustained in the French A-League semifinals. It was not believed to be serious, but observers couldn't help but notice the physical discrepancies between the chiseled Nike Hoop Summit Kevin Seraphin and the midseason Kevin Seraphin. Kevin undertook a rigorous training program set down by Flip Saunders in between being drafted and reporting stateside, and in case you're wondering where that work went, my money is on a regimen designed to help combat his lack of experience. For those of you who may still be unaware, Kevin's spent less time playing basketball than most high school players, even now.
Doubts have characterized the early stages of Kevin's career, and after earning little playing time last season, it wouldn't be difficult for him to ask himself why he didn't just stay in France? If he had waited, he would likely be facing the prospect of a third straight year in France, and French veteran Ali Traore would be on the national team for Eurobasket. Instead, it's Mr. Seraphin, and how sweet it is.
"We had no idea that Kevin could be at this level and even if the decision is cruel to Ali, the interest of the France team must come first."
After Ronny Turiaf broke his hand fighting for a rebound (thanks to djnnnou), Seraphin moved up the depth chart yet again and is being afforded an opportunity he most likely never would have tasted had he opted out of the 2010 draft. Success on the international floor doesn't necessarily (or even usually) translate to the NBA (see Yi, Jianlian), but being first big man off the bench for the French national team after struggling to see the hardwood playing for Cholet Basket just two years ago is just one more chance to take another step. There's nothing like having your decisions vindicated when you need a little confidence in the face of a substantial challenge.
Maturity has been a big topic with respect to young players and the lockout. We've lauded the players who are staying disciplined, and I am immensely cheered to put Kevin in this category. There are no easy transitions to the NBA (excepting the exceptions), and watching him put in the work he must to realize his impressive upside gives Wizards fans something to really root for during the lockout.
It's been difficult for us to gauge his progress here in the States. We were unsure how far he had come in his first year and were prepared to start forming our opinions based on his body of work this season. Many of us were nervous when we had little right to be. After all, Kevin was drafted as an acknowledged project. It takes a lot of hard work and maybe more than a passing amount of luck to become a rotation player in the NBA.
The stars are aligning to give Kevin Seraphin the best possible shot, and that's all a fan can ask.