Our player evaluations for the 2012-13 season continue today with a look at the curious case of Jan Vesely.
Basic stats: 2.5 points and 2.4 rebounds in 11.8 minutes per game, 30.8 percent from the foul line, 48 true shooting percentage, 11.3 rebound percentage.
Contract status: The Wizards picked up the 2013-14 options for Vesely and a slew of other players still on their rookie contracts back in October. Vesely is set to make about $3.34 million next season, his third in the NBA. If the team picks up his fourth-year option, Vesely will earn about $4.24 million in 2014-15.
Preseason expectations: It's hard to set the bar much lower than Vesely did in his rookie year, when as the sixth-overall pick he averaged 4.7 points and 4.4 rebounds for a team that went 20-46 in a lockout-shortened season. Still, Vesely displayed flashes over the last 10 games of the 2011-12 season, averaging 8.1 points and 8.1 rebounds, and his potential fit as a fast-break and pick-and-roll partner for franchise cornerstone John Wall was never in question. Vesely also appeared to display an improved jump shot before going down with a leg injury during the 2012 Las Vegas Summer League. Expectations for Vesely were pretty low heading into the 2012-13 season given his lackluster rookie campaign and general disdain from fans wishing another selection had been made at No. 6, but suffice to say Vesely was expected to at least show improvement in his sophomore campaign.
Offense: It's hard to draw any conclusions from Vesely's stats given how little and sporadically he played this season (with 601 total minutes on the year, no player who spent the entire season with the Wizards played less), but for what it's worth, the team was almost four points better offensively with Vesely on the court. In fact, the Wizards' offensive rating when Vesely was on the court ranked third on the team, behind only Wall and Nene. Now, there are a few potential explanations for this, and none of them are that Vesely is a passable offensive player. Either it's a statistical anomaly due to a small sample size, or a function of the offense playing better as a whole because their worst offensive player never took a shot unless it was a dunk or putback attempt (we'll call this the Anti-Kevin Seraphin Effect).
For the second straight season, other than passing the ball from the top of key and setting screens that mostly led to nothing except for the rare alley-oop, Vesely really didn't contribute anything on the offensive side of the ball. He wasn't a threat anywhere on the floor; teams didn't even bother guarding him away from the basket, and he has no post game to speak of. Vesely wasn't even much of a factor in transition, as only 15.9 percent of his points came on the fast break. It didn't help him that Wall, who seems to be the only player capable of getting Vesely scoring chances, missed the first 33 games of the season. I suppose you could say Vesely was adequate on the offensive glass -- his 8.4 offensive rebound percentage was third on the team behind Trevor Booker and Emeka Okafor -- but you'd like that to be a bigger part of his game given his athleticism and limitations everywhere else on offense.
Oh, and he made less than 31 percent of his free throws, which, and I cannot emphasize this enough, is not a typo.
Defense: Vesely's athleticism makes him a versatile and, at times, disruptive defender, capable of guarding multiple positions and switching out on perimeter players in the pick-and-roll, but he's a weak post defender who gives up position too easily and tries to make up for it later by fouling, which resulted in him recording 6.4 fouls per 36 minutes, by far the highest rate of any player who spent the entire season with the Wizards. One of several running jokes during the first couple months of the Wizards' season was that Vesely had recorded more fouls than points or rebounds. He ended up with 126 points, 122 rebounds and 107 fouls on the season, which somehow isn't any less depressing. Vesely's lack of strength also makes him a poor defensive rebounder, as evidenced by a 15.1 defensive rebound percentage last season, lowest among Washington's big men.
The net result was that the Wizards were more than four points worse defensively with Vesely on the court, and the team's 104.2 defensive rating with Vesely in the lineup was second-worst on the team to Booker. Whether that's again an anomaly, the point stands that Vesely did little to help his team on the defensive end.
Did he meet, exceed or fall short of expectations? This is a bit relative, considering that most of the fanbase had already written him off before his sophomore season even began, but it's safe to say that regardless of how low you set them in the preseason, Vesely fell well short of expectations.
Overall: I might be the lone remaining person on the planet still holding out some hope that Vesely could one day turn into a useful NBA player, but this past season certainly didn't do anything to reinforce my faith in him. Other than jumping, the only useful skill Vesely has shown on the offensive end of the floor is his instincts, specifically passing the ball. It's rare that he actually finds himself in a position to flash them, so these instincts don't lead to many assists, but in instances where Vesely actually handles the ball, he has shown a knack for finding small passing lanes and creativity in getting the ball through them. It's these isolated plays that Vesely makes when he doesn't have time to "think" out on the court that gives me hope.
But first Vesely will have to get his head right, as a crushing lack of confidence is the only explanation for a professional basketball player with passable shooting form sporting a 31-percent free through percentage. Even Randy Wittman acknowledged that Vesely "needs to work on his head first" before focusing on other aspects of his game this offseason. To that end, it appears Vesely will most likely skip the 2013 Vegas summer league and play in EuroBasket 2013 for the Czech Republic. Hopefully playing back home, where Vesely remains popular, will help get him back to the player the Wizards (and other talent evaluators) were so high on entering the 2011 NBA Draft.
If Vesely continues to get stronger in the offseason and improves his jumper to the point where he can at least knock down wide-open midrange shots, he could move himself ahead of Booker and Chris Singleton in the Wizards' hierarchy of young big men. But if not, and if Vesely doesn't show more consistently the defensive disruption and rebounding that he flashed at times his rookie season, it wouldn't surprise anyone if the team either looks to trade him at midseason next year or simply chooses to not pick up his fourth-year-option.