The Wizards believe they have found the answer in the middle in a recent trade deadline deal in which they swapped the youth and athleticism of JaVale McGee for the strength and consistency of Nene.
But in the three games that they had to wait for Nene to arrive from Denver, take his physical and the deal to finally be completed, the Wizards (10-34) got to see that what they already had to fill in at center wasn’t too shabby.
Kevin Seraphin has played his best three-game stretch as a pro during a stint that didn’t even serve as an audition because the position was already lost before he was allowed to play the role. Still, Seraphin matched his then-career-high with nine rebounds while battling former all-star center Chris Kaman in New Orleans, matched his career-high with four blocked shots in Atlanta and then had his first career double-double in a physical battle with all-star center Marc Gasol in Memphis.
“Kevin is doing a good job,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “He’s getting more and more comfortable and he’s got to continue doing what he does: rebound, finding things around the basket, making himself big and a presence defensively. He’s done a nice job of that.”
Seraphin has shown a decent jump hook in the lane, done a decent job in pick-and-roll defense and refused to give up any ground defensively when matched up one-on-one. He has scored in double figures each game and also isn’t playing overwhelmed or lost, as he often did in the early part of the season when he could barely see the floor as a backup for McGee.
His production in the past three starts — 11.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks — has been eerily close to same numbers McGee posted while starting 40 of 41 games this season (11.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks). But unlike McGee, the 6-foot-10 Seraphin has managed to score within the flow of the offense with little improvisation. He has also been better with his defensive rotations and guarding his man straight up, and hasn’t gambled as much to block shots.
That doesn’t mean that Seraphin doesn’t try to protect the rim. He got embarrassed in the second quarter of the Wizards’ 97-92 loss on Sunday to the Memphis Grizzlies when Grizzlies reserve Jeremy Pargo climbed him for an emphatic one-handed jam. Unrattled, Seraphin calmly answered with a short jumper in the lane. Later in the game, Marreese Speights tried to take ball at Seraphin, but he slapped the ball out of bounds.
“Kevin does a great job defensively against the pick and roll. He does a great job of one-on-one. You don’t have to double team. and he’s going to battle,” John Wall said. “He gives us the threat of offense, shooting baby hooks and making mid-range jump shots. That’s really helping us out a lot.”
Seraphin will have to move back in a reserve role when Nene makes his Wizards debut on against the New Jersey Nets, but said he is ready to contribute in any capacity. “I will try to keep my confidence and play. I think I have to more careful, because . . . now we have Nene coming back and I will play a lot. I have to try to do things.”
Seraphin is more confident and comfortable, but where has this been all season?
“I was waiting for this moment. Not the trade. I was waiting for them to give me an opportunity to play,” said Seraphin, 22, who averaged 3.6 points and 3.5 rebounds in his first 32 games before the deal. “I played well this summer, so I was just waiting for them to give me my opportunity. I was waiting.”
Seraphin stayed busy during the lockout, as he earned a spot on the French national team and gained invaluable experience playing in the ACB Spanish League and EuroLeague for perennial power Caja Laboral. But Seraphin was slow to make any strides in his second season, aside from occasional flashes — a solid outing against Dwight Howard in Orlando, a career-best fourth-quarter in an upset over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Now, he has raised expectations.
“He’s been battling. He’s been on the boards. He’s been making shots,” Trevor Booker said. “He’s been playing big for us.”