Jan Vesely had doubts that John Wall would actually attempt it. Wall hadn’t even reached halfcourt, but Vesely figured he would take a chance. Vesely was sure that he could outrun every player down the court, so he pointed his finger toward the rafters and continued his sprint.
Wall didn’t hesitate, tossing a lob toward the rim from just behind the Wizards’ logo. Vesely drop-stepped, high-jumped off two feet and threw down the ball with his right hand to give the Wizards a 24-point halftime lead over the lowly Charlotte Bobcats.
“I didn’t think he would throw it,” Vesely said of Wall, “and I did my best to catch it.”
Vesely tasted perfection – and the glory of a halfcourt alley-oop – on Monday night, when he went 8 for 8 for a career-high 16 points during the Wizards’ 101-73 win at Verizon Center. Mitchell Butler was the last Washington rookie to make at least eight field goals without a miss in a game, when he also went 8 for 8 with 16 points in a Bullets victory on Jan. 13, 1994. Vesely was a three-year-old kid in Ostrava, Czech Republic back then.
No NBA rookie has made that many shots without a miss since Darren Collison went 10 for 10 from the floor and scored 22 points on March 27, 2010. Vesely had six dunks and didn’t take a single shot beyond six feet, but Butler wrote in a text message, “Congrats to him! Still impressive!”
Success and failure in the NBA is mostly determined by talent, but it is largely influenced by confidence. The better a player feels about himself, the better he’ll play, and Vesely was certainly in the right place mentally against Charlotte . To have the audacity to ask for an alley-oop after crossing halfcourt was a good sign that the past month of significant playing time – and 13 consecutive starts – has done wonders for the rookie.
Vesely is averaging 8.4 points and 6.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.0 steals this month, taking advantage of the opportunity created by Trevor Booker’s absence. He has scored in double figures six times, recorded two double-doubles and played solid, with the exception of a clunker in New York, where he went scoreless and threw a shot on the side of the backboard.
“He is being more aggressive. He’s putting the ball on the floor. We’ve seen him shoot from the outside more than we have at any point in the start of the year,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “That’s comfort level, confidence. We’ve talked the same thing about Kevin. What is Kevin’s biggest plus, and it’s his confidence. That’s a hard thing for a rookie, to be thrown into the fire, and play with confidence right away. It was good to see.”
Vesely has had two of his best games this season against Charlotte, as he recorded his first double-double of his career with 11 points and 11 rebounds three weeks ago. “I try to do my best on the court and play hard. If I score 11 or 16, it depends on how it goes,” he said.
He got off to a great start on Monday, as he recovered Jordan Crawford miss and dunk. He then anticipated Bobcats point guard D.J. Augustin’s pass to Byron Mullens, jumped it and knocked the ball ahead for nice one-handed jam. He added a jump hook and a fastbreak layup to account for eight of the Wizards’ first 17 points.
After catching that impressive halfcourt alley-oop, Vesely had three more dunks, following up a Wall missed layup, and taking passes from Wall for the others. Vesely added six rebounds and four steals in the win.
“He always plays with energy and that helps us,” Wall said. “He runs the floor, blocks shots and rebounds. For somebody that’s that athletic at that position, it makes it a lot easier, somebody you can look for running the floor on a fastbreak.”
Even from 50 feet. “I feel more comfortable out there on the court,” Vesely said. “It’s really fun to be on the court to play with those guys and show what we can do.”