It was an interesting season for the Czech Republic native. He was the sixth pick of the draft, suffered through the extended NBA lockout, and had his ups and downs as a rookie on a 20-win team.
Opinions of Vesely still vary, but there’s no doubt that Jan “Air Wolf” Vesely’s best basketball is in front of him.
This time last year I was banging the table for Ernie Grunfeld to take Kawhi Leonard with the sixth pick in the draft. Instead, Grunfeld chose the athletic 6-foot-11 combo forward from the Czech Republic, Jan Vesely. Admittedly, I didn’t know much about Vesely other than what I had seen on YouTube clips. Now a year later, I have a better grasp on “Air Wolf” and his game, and overall, I’m pretty happy.
Jan Vesely’s game has a lot of holes. He can’t shoot a free-throw or a jump shot. He offers next to nothing in the half-court on offense. And he’s not strong enough to get physical in the post. However, I still like Jan. Why? He has a high basketball IQ; he hustles; he’s a great teammate; and he cares. . . In short, he works hard and plays hard. A lot of people think he can fix his broken jump-shot. Personally, I’m skeptical. I hope he can, but I’m not expecting Jan to come to training camp this fall looking like a perimeter shooter. Even if “Air Wolf” does find a jump-shot, it will take time — it’s not something that happens overnight. However, if Vesely does show the ability to knock down mid-range jumpers in the future, we could be looking at a real gem. If not, he’ll be what he is now — an athletic, high energy, high motor power forward off the bench. That’s a valuable role on any team, so I won’t diminish it. That just mean without a jump shot, he’ll more closely resemble Tiago Splitter rather than Mike Dunleavy — right NBAdraft.net?
Bottom line is that he has a lot of work to do on his game in order to reach his full potential. Luckily, he’s got the physical talent and the work ethic to reach that potential. Now we just have to wait and see.
As much as I like Jan, I still prefer Kawhi Leonard. But I’ll give Jan a B grade for the season given the lockout and his improvement as the season wore on.
Jan Vesely was a mystery to most of us going into the 2011 season. The top Wizards draft pick was from overseas with no college exposure or training camp, and we had no idea how he would perform against NBA competition. And on the whole, I had a lot of fun watching Vesely over the year. His specialties, 50/50 plays, running the break, and finishing in transition, were all the kind of exclamation mark plays that tend to leave a distinctly positive impression. And most of all, his constant hustle communicated a distinct discomfort at the prospect of losing. Even the bleakest loss is easier to handle when it is obvious that the players are just as invested in their team as you are.
However, despite the positive outlook I have about Vesely, it is impossible to fairly evaluate his season without acknowledging the laundry list of impediments to his game. He had a broken jump shot, making only three shots from beyond nine-feet. He shot one of the worst free-throw percentages for the entire team, making only 52% of all his attempts from the line. And yeah, he could finish at the rim, but his underdeveloped post game meant he needed plentiful space to be able to do so. Defensively, he fouled way too much and had problems going for fakes in his post defense (hat tip: Bullets Forever). It was very obvious as the season went on that Vesely was an incredibly raw talent that needed time to acclimate to the NBA game.
I understand why we characterize players as “projects”. It is a wide umbrella term that is very useful shorthand when referring to a player that has significant deficiencies in their game. The downside to this term, however, is that it does not differentiate between the particularized deficiencies that each “project” has. This means that when we hear that Jan Vesely is a project, images of JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche immediately spring to mind even though the impediments to their corresponding upsides are incredibly different. While Blatche and McGee had many physical tools, they weren’t the easiest players to coach. Vesely is a high IQ and high effort player that needs to get stronger and add offensive components to his game. Unlike his “pet project” predecessors, Vesely has both the dedication and the wherewithal to improve himself this summer. Based on the interviews he’s given, the firsthand accounts from others, and the incredibly interesting and informative Vesely diaries over at TruthAboutIt.net, Vesely seems to be the type of player where the mindset and effort come first, and we can expect the product of those tools come later. When people complain about who the Wizards should have drafted instead of Vesely, I tune out because it’s incredibly unfair to make a judgment about the career of a smart motivated young player after one year when he couldn’t work with trainers and was locked out. We’ve already seen how one player that supposed didn’t have a jump shot and wasn’t strong enough become an NBA superstar (Read about Jeremy Lin’s evolution here in this NY Times article. It’s a great read). Jan Vesely impressed us with his effort and energy every Wizards game. Let’s reward him by not writing his career before it already happens.
Career Grade: Undefined
Season Grade: C+