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2011 Draft Prospect Profile - Jan Vesely

Editor's note: I was able to purchase a season pass for EuroLeague.TV - The pass allows me to watch most EuroLeague games live, and I can watch highlights and recorded full games for selected match ups. One thing I've noticed about EuroLeague play is that the referees allow bit more physical play. The games seems to feature many fewer isolation plays and much more cutting and passing. The Pick and Roll play is a staple of many teams, but the pick-and-pop is rare. Also, there is much less questioning of the referees... and a more deferential treatment of the referees by both players and Coaches. Players raise their hand when a foul is called. Generally speaking, the players themselves aren't nearly as athletic as NBA players - but they play a more "team" oriented brand of basketball.

Here is my second draft prospect profile for International players.

Jan Vesely (6'11" SF/PF for KK Partizan Belgrade)

Jan (pronounced Yon) Vesely burst onto the scene in his 2008-2009 EuroLeague Rookie season as a rail-thin 18-year-old, where he averaged almost five points and more than three rebounds per game. But those 5 points and 3 rebounds came with tremendous energy and activity, but more importantly, with a combination of size, speed, explosiveness and athleticism not usually seen in EuroLeague play. He quickly became a huge fan favorite.

During his second year, Partizan Coach Dusko Vujosevic decided to develop Vesely as a small forward, because of his quickness, speed and obvious perimeter skills. Vesely blossomed in his second year, becoming a star, and helping Partizan make it to the Final 4 In EuroLeague play in the 2009-2010 season. In the Final 16, playoffs and final four (the equivalent of the NBA Playoffs), Vesely averaged 10 points (57% shooting, 41% from three), 6.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists.

Even though he was considered by many to be a sure Lottery pick, Vesely decided not to enter the 2010 NBA draft. Instead he decided to play another year for Partizan; probably a smart decision - given his weaknesses at the time (shooting, defending). He went back to Europe and worked on his deficiencies.

This year, even though there is not a huge increase in his scoring or rebounding numbers, we see a more complete player. He is no longer limited to scoring on the break or on alley oops. His individual and help defense, a weakness in the past, has greatly improved. While he may not have increased his draft stock that much, he will be a much better player in the NBA for having stayed the extra year playing at the highest level of European competition.

More after the jump.

Vesely is NOT your typical tall, perimeter oriented Euro player. He is instead a dynamic, explosive athlete with size, length and an incredible motor. Standing every bit of 6'11", with long arms and a solid frame, Vesely does not look like your typical NBA Small Forward. He's quick enough to switch off on Guards on the perimeter, yet his length gives him an advantage in the post against smaller players. He's got large hands that allow him to be sure handed and catch nearly everything thrown his way. Vesely has put on weight since his Rookie season, but he's still slim at 230 pounds; but despite that he's relentless and tough. Willing to throw his body around in the paint, he's  a high energy type player who dives after loose balls and plays the game with intensity and a high level of competitiveness.

In one game, against Efes Pilsen (Group 6, Top 16, Week 6), Vesely put on an exhibition you rarely see from anyone except a guy like Blake Griffin. The first play of the game, he was in the lane, and jumped from a stand still to block a dunk attempt (help defense). His head very near the rim. I had to watch the replay to believe what I saw. A play or two later, on a pick-and-roll play he rolled to the basket, took the pass and finished with a vicious 2-handed dunk. The next offensive play, he scored on a soaring one handed tomahawk dunk on a delayed break. Even the partisan Efes Pilsen crowd reacted to that one. Once more on the fast break, Vesely had an incredible one handed catch and dunk taking off from the wing well beyond the paint. A couple plays later, he slashed to the middle, did a quick spin and made a baby hook from 7 feet. Then, as the half was coming to a close, he drove baseline and rose up and dunked OVER and THROUGH the opposing center. He ended the half by splashing a 3-pointer from the wing. For the game he wound up with 23 points on 7 of 8 shooting, 3 of 6 from three point line, 6 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 blocks.  Not every game has been like that one, but he brings the same energy, determination and intensity.

On offense, it's fair to say that Vesely still relies on his athleticism. He still scores most of his points in transition (usually ending with a thunderous dunk), on alley-oop plays, and on offensive rebound put backs. He's still, even after 3 years playing professionally, fairly raw offensively - but he's showing steady improvement in his slashing ability - and more importantly improvement in his jump shot. Vesely is terrific moving without the ball. He makes hard cuts and frequently uses screens to try to get himself free going towards the basket (rarely trying to get free for a jump shot). The ball does not stick in his hands, he quickly makes a move or rotates the ball but it's not rare to see him make bad decisions with the ball too, especially in the form of unforced turnovers. His 16% turn over ratio is a pretty high number considering his usage rate is only 18%. Fortunately, Turn Overs are one of the things that naturally decline as a young player develops.

His ball handling skills, although huge leaps and bounds better than last year, are still only average. He can take a dribble or two towards the rim. He has very long strides, so two dribbles can take him from the top of the key to the rim. Lately he's looked much less helter skelter with his ball handling - and more in control; especially during the Top 16 games. He's not the focus of the Offense, and as such is not required to create shots - but he has shown the ability (occasionally) to get into the lane and create. He's shown the ability to pull up in the lane for a baby hook, or the occasional floater. And of course, if he has any room at all, he's going to try to get right to the rim and dunk. His improvement in this area from last year bodes well.

His jump shot has improved as well, although still not where it should be to be an efficient scorer. Overall, Vesely has improved his jump shot tremendously from last year. When he gets his feet set, and his shoulders square, his mechanics look very good. He gets good lift from his legs; his elbow is square to the basket, and he gets a nice high release with good rotation on the ball. In these situations, he has a nice touch, so that even if he is a bit off on the shot - he is rewarded with that "shooter's bounce" on the rim. As a result, he is pretty good as a catch-and-shoot player, even out to the NBA 3-point line; but not so good off the dribble. Unfortunately, those are the times when he doesn't square his shoulders - and you can just about count on a miss in those situations. Time spent in the off-season with a good shooting coach would be a great idea. As for Free Throw shooting, he's terrible (45%) - but the problem is not in his upper body mechanics or release... but rather in his legs. He shoots the ball without enough bend in his knees. Again, a good shooting coach can correct that flaw.

This year, Partisan has started occasionally posting Vesely up against smaller opponents, with excellent results. He seems to like physical contact - and his energy and activity level somewhat compensate for his lack of bulk. He is frequently able to hold deep position, even against shorter, but stronger opponents simply because he wants it more and fights for it. Once in the post, he has a number of moves, but his favorite is to just turn around, rise up and bank the ball off the glass. There are very few opponents in the EuroLeague at Small Forward that can contest that shot. I'm not sure his post work will translate well in the NBA, where he will be going against bigger and stronger opponents than he's used to... I'm thinking of guys like LeBron, Melo, Durantula, Paul Pierce, Wilson Chandler, etc...

Although still a work in progress on Offense, if Vesely's improvement remains on it's current upward track, and he's able to continue developing his ball handling skills and (more importantly) his jump shot - it will go a long way to making him a much more dangerous player - and not just a fast break, highlight reel dunker.

On defense, Vesely's intensity and activity level really helps overcome some of his shortcomings. First of all, he's very competitive, and hates to get beat. He contests everything at the rim, which can occasionally get him into foul trouble. Thanks to his length, and pretty good lateral quickness (for his size), he has the ability to guard several positions when switching off on screens. He does a solid job moving his feet - can generally stay in front of his opponent - and takes a fair number of charges. He does get beaten occasionally by some of the quicker forwards, but he is still sometimes able to block the shot from behind. He's an excellent Pick-and-Roll defender, able to go under a screen but, with his terrific length and athleticism, still contest the shot. On the perimeter, he seems to know just how much room to give to take away the drive, but still be in a position to contest the jump shot.

Because of his size, he has difficulty getting in a good, fundamental low stance. That can sometimes lead to him being flat-footed, and causes him to occasionally get beat. He may have trouble with extremely quick and aggressive Small Forwards in the NBA - especially those few excellent jump shooters who are also great slashers (Melo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Durant) - but everyone has trouble with them. He also occasionally loses focus, doesn't see the ball and as a result, is caught out of position. Vesely has quick hands, and anticipates well. Although he doesn't gamble unnecessarily, he still gets about 2 steals per 40 minutes (pace adjusted). He's also a very good help defender, sliding over to take charges and blocking shots on the weak side.

As for rebounding, the numbers would indicate that he's a fairly good rebounder for a wing (7.3 per 40 pace adjusted) - however in the games I saw, his lack of strength and his inability to hold position belied the numbers. He frequently was pushed aside by bigger (read heavier), stronger opponents. Most of the rebounds I saw him corral were of the chase-down variety, or the fall in his hands variety. Again, the rebounds he gets are usually a result of his energy, intensity and hustle, rather than strength, positioning and fundamentals. Very rarely did I see him go up in a crowd and come down with the rebound; on the other hand if there was a loose ball, he was the one diving on the floor for it. His defensive rebounding especially could be better, but the team's need for him to get out on the break probably has something to do with depressing that number. Conversely on offense, he was usually the one tasked with quickly getting back on defense (rather than crashing the offensive boards).

Overall, although right now he's just OK as a defender, his length, quickness, athleticism and most especially his desire, intensity and competitiveness could help to make him much, much better.  He'd be terrific right away in a Flip Saunders style match-up zone; and I think he could be an excellent one-on-one defender eventually.

So to sum everything up, Jan Vesely definitely has some upside. He is a competitive player that hustles on every play. He brings energy and toughness. He plays with a lot of emotion. In order to contribute right away, he needs to be drafted by fast paced team because he could be a solid contributor right away on an up-tempo team.  I question whether he will eventually morph into a more traditional face the basket Power Forward - or whether he'll be a tall, athletic 3. I hope the latter, because as a 6'11" small forward, I think he has a better chance of being special. And by special, I don't mean Kevin Durant special - but more like Andrei Kirilenko special. Vesely has a long way to go to reach the level of an Andrei Kirilenko, but it's not completely out of the question.


Enjoy some more video of Jan Vesely