Jan Vesely had yet another solid game on Wednesday, dropping 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds against the New Orleans Pelicans' backup bigs. That comes on the heels of a six-point, three-steal, three-block performance in 21 minutes against the Charlotte Bobcats and an eight-point, three-block performance in garbage time against the Golden State Warriors.
Clearly, he's back in the rotation. Clearly, he's still a major disappointment as a No. 6 pick. But given the Wizards' makeup, this begs the question: Should he start?
Assume for a second that the Nene bench experiment will continue, both to limit his minutes and to stabilize what was a leaky second unit. The question then becomes whether you'd want to start Vesely or Trevor Booker.
The case for Jan
Booker has certainly put up some great individual performances, including a scoring spree against the Bobcats in the third quarter on Monday. That said, those can often be empty stats for several reasons.
If you're wondering why the Wizards settle for jumpers so often, it is because of Booker. Not him specifically, mind you, but his presence on the floor. When he's out there, teams cheat off him to help plug the lane against everyone else because they aren't worried he'll beat them from the perimeter. Remember the example cited in last week's Bradley Beal piece?
Vesely presents similar problems, but he's also a more active cutter around the basket that may occupy defenders.
The bigger issue is on the other end, where Booker's lack of size, poor lateral movement and tendency to rush in for offensive rebounds instead of getting back hurts the Wizards. As Zach Lowe noted, the Wizards' starting lineup is yielding too many points per 100 possessions, and Booker is the biggest culprit. Consider: The Wizards' defense drops a whopping 13 points per 100 possessions when you simply replace Booker with Nene. There are all sorts of caveats there -- second units, the strong play of Nene -- that help explain that, but a good deal of it is because of Booker's own limitations. (The starting lineup with Vesely instead of Booker has only played seven minutes together, so we can't draw any conclusions).
The case against starting Jan
At least Booker is sort of a threat. There's no guarantee that teams would defend Vesely any differently than they defend Booker, and while Vesely will cut, he can't make the defense pay unless he's right under the basket. Trevor has been productive for a reason; Vesely won't be able to match that output.
Also: Does it really pay to separate Vesely and Nene right now? The numbers on the Vesely/Nene duo aren't pretty, but the sample is small and I suspect it'll start to turn around if the two play more together. With Vesely gaining confidence because he's playing with such a strong passing big men, why break that up? It seems better to ride it out for a while longer, especially because Booker has shown he can be the same kind of player as a starter than as a bench guy.
For now, I'd leave things as is. But if the Wizards suffer another losing skid, I might change my mind.
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