The basketball world knew who the Washington Wizards were going to select with the sixth pick in the NBA Draft well before David Stern took the podium.
The Wizards, longtime fans of Jan Vesely since his emergence on the international scene in 2009, had considered selecting him in last year’s draft, before he decided to return to his Belgrade-based club Partizan for another year. And on draft afternoon, the paper trail spoke louder than ever. The Wizards’ sales department had invited staff members from the Czech Republic embassy to the team draft party in downtown Washington.
Now, while the selection might not have mystery, the player certainly was. To some extent, Vesely was misrepresented—even undervalued—having been surrounded by the popular, though incomplete, rhetoric from just a handful of available scouting reports and YouTube highlights. But the wing from Ostrava, Czech Republic, who has played basketball professionally since he was 16 years old, was the perfect pick for the Wizards. But you don’t have to take my word for it, consider head coach Flip Saunders’ review:
“He’s a perfect fit for us.”
There you have it folks, that just about settles it. …In all seriousness, there is a lot to like about Vesely, the 2011 FIBA Young Men’s Player of the Year.
“He’s a guy that’s been heavily scouted, and we just thought that where we had him rated, whether we were going to be at six or even up a little bit higher, he was going to be a guy we were locked into because he would fit so much into how John [Wall] plays,” continued Saunders. “He’s a willing learner, a quick learner, very much a student of the game, how the game is played. He’s very competitive. He wants his team to win more than anything else.”
Right away, you can point to Vesely’s athleticism, speed, energy, and hops which make him an effective finisher around the rim and with his back to the basket. His action off the ball, on-court awareness, and basketball IQ should also excite you. Vesely should be able to not only throw down in transition, but he should also be a factor on the glass. You should applaud his cool confidence, sense of humor, and affinity for posterizing defenders—he’s jokingly referred to Blake Griffin as the “American Jan Vesely.” But perhaps most importantly, Vesely brings effort, intensity, and toughness to the Wizards roster—three things that have been sorely lacking over the past couple of years.
“I like defense, you know,” said Vesely during a conference call with the media in the Wizards pressroom. “Of course, I like to block shots. I like to stop the player with the ball. I can play defense at all positions.”
Vesely likes to play defense. How many Wizards can honestly say that? I can count them on one hand with fingers left to spare. Saunders even went as far as to compare Vesely to Kevin Garnett on the defensive end, in terms of his quickness and the amount of ground he can cover, potentially.
The fire and tenacity that Saunders referenced, coupled with his versatility on both ends of the floor, were reason enough to fall in love with this Euro—it doesn’t hurt that he was one of the biggest players in the draft, standing 6’11” and weighing in at 240 pounds.
Experience played a factor as well. Majority owner Ted Leonsis, general manager Ernie Grunfeld, and Saunders expressed their satisfaction with Vesely’s progress and maturation during his time on Partizan. Each cited that he not only played, but found success against some of the better competition in the world, and he was a key player in Partizan’s run to the Euroleague Final Four in Paris. Vesely is NBA-ready, and expected to see minutes in the rebuilding squad’s rotation right away.
Being NBA-ready doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t be an adjustment period, but Vesely is up for the challenge. He has already expressed an eagerness to advance his training, and plans to work on his shooting from the field, as well as free throws—a glaring weakness in his game, but also an area of opportunity, because he gets to the charity stripe at a good clip.
Even if Vesely is a limited contributor next season, you have to like his potential as one of John Wall’s hyperathletic running mates. After all, JaVale McGee and Trevor Booker can’t be the only athletics bigs for Wall to target on the break. Vesely is humble enough to recognize his limitations and determined to put in the work to improve not only his individual skills, but also the Wizards’ chances of success.
NBA.com’s David Aldridge might have said it best, in an “Instant Analysis” segment on NBATV:
“This is a basketball team with the Wizards where they’ve had a problem with great effort with some of their big guys over the last couple of years. They haven’t had that consistency of performance form some of their big guys in terms of giving it to you every night. […] The worst thing that could happen would be [that Jan Vesely] comes in and pushes Andray Blatche every day in practice, makes Andray Blatche work harder in practice. That would be a good thing for the Washington Wizards.”
That would be a very good thing, indeed.