For years the Wizards had their eyes on an athletic European forward and in June of 2011 the team finally had an opportunity to draft him with the sixth pick in the draft when they selected Jan Vesely.
Vesely was born and raised in his native Czech Republic but began his professional basketball career at the age of 17 in Slovenia. Following a year with Geoplin Slovan in Slovenia, Vesely made the move to Serbia to play for Partizan. During his three year stint with Partizan, Vesely became a cult hero. It was with Partizan where the 6’11” Vesely got his nickname, “the dunking ninja”, for his high-flying dunks. In 2010, Jan Vesely won the FIBA Europe Young Men’s Player of the Year Award after reaching the Euroleague Final Four.
Now at 21 years of age, Jan is trying to adapt his game to the NBA style of play. Recently, he was asked if the adjustment has been difficult for him, to which he responded “A little bit, I think.” The fact that a 21 year old rookie is struggling to adjust to the NBA game is anything but rare, especially a European rookie.
Every NBA team is looking for the next Dirk Nowitzki, and for even the casual fan that saw last season’s NBA finals understands why. However, Europe isn’t churning out a Dirk Nowitzki-type talent every year or every five or ten years even, but that hasn’t stopped teams from taking shots on European players in the draft. Speaking to Vesely specifically though, he’s a different type of European. Most players that come from across the pond are tall and lanky, prefer to shoot jump shots, and play around the perimeter. That’s not Vesely’s game.
Jan Vesely has been referred to as one of the most “Americanized” basketball players to come from Europe. He stands nearly seven feet tall and can play either forward position, but his jump shot — unlike most Europeans — is one of the weakest parts of his game. Jan’s game is predicated on his ability to run up and down the floor, cut towards the basketball, finish at the rim, and get out in transition. Because of that skill set, Ernie Grunfeld pounced on him with the sixth pick in the draft so he could add another athletic player to help budding star point guard John Wall, who wants to push the ball as much as possible.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the selection of Vesely in the draft because in my opinion we have a similar player to him already on our roster, and his name is Trevor Booker. Both Vesely and Booker are athletic up-tempo players that play the game the right way, but what does that mean? Playing the right way is something I say often when referring to both football and basketball players. As far as basketball is concerned, it means giving full effort each and every game, playing with awareness and displaying an understanding for the game, and being a team player not worried about individual stats. Booker and Vesely both show those characteristics in their games.
This season, and into the future, both Vesely and Booker profile as the future combo forward reserves for this team. Both are guys that will provide energy off the bench and can do it at either forward spot. That is where Vesely profiles for his entire career too unless he can improve his below fifty percent free throw shooting percentage from last season with Partizan, fix his poor jump shot, and get bigger and stronger to where the point where he can get physical in the paint against power forwards.
If Vesely can improve on those things this season and into the coming years, we can reevaluate his long-term role for this team but until then he’ll fill his role as a high energy bench player.
Twitter: @Kevin_Hine and @WizOfAwesKevin