This is the first part of a series exploring how the Wizards can turn things around this season.
Ever since their over-the-(big)top, police-escort, red-carpet-and-balloons introduction for John Wall, the Wizards have taken a more measured approach with welcoming Jan Vesely and Bradley Beal into the fold.
Vesely, the No. 6 pick in 2011, probably didn’t warrant a bombastic unveiling, as few outside of European basketball circles were familiar with him before the draft. Beal, the third pick last June, was more of a known commodity, having played one season at Florida, but the Wizards have tempered expectations considerably, given Beal’s age (he turned 19 on draft night) and the likelihood that he’ll start the season backing up incumbent shooting guard Jordan Crawford.
Wall’s play at Kentucky and in two rookie-sophomore exhibition games all-star weekend have served as an example of how much he thrives when surrounded by similar talent. The Wizards pulled themselves out of the free agent recruiting game by making trades for Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza – and acquired one borderline all-star in the process – so they will need to develop their own stars through the draft.
Beal and/or Vesely don’t need to shine but they will need to become dependable options to help the Wizards escape the bottom.
In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Beal embraced that responsibility when he said that he didn’t feel a lot of pressure heading into his rookie season, “because it’s not all on me. It’s a team effort and I’m hoping to be a big contributing factor.”
That’s more than acceptable at this stage in his career. Beal appears to have the skill set and demeanor to be an adequate, if not excellent, running mate with the former No. 1 overall pick. But the Wizards aren’t expecting to open the season on Oct. 30 in Cleveland with a Wall-Beal starting backcourt.
Beal could very well overtake Crawford, who has already embraced the concept of competition and beleves that it would only make him and the team better. But for now, the Wizards would be pleased if Beal served a role similar to the one James Harden plays in Oklahoma City, where the former No. 3 pick comes off the bench, provides instant, efficient offense and ensures that there isn’t a drop-off in scoring. As a rookie, Harden averaged close to 10 points per game.
Beal isn’t one to overwhelm, as one longtime observer of his game described him as a “blend” player. He showed during summer league that he could be solid and consistent without being dynamic.
There was no need to place any unnecessary pressure on Vesely, who was adjusting to a different country, different language and different style of play in his first season. He also had the decided disadvantage of being out of contact with coaches and trainers during an extended lockout and then having to learn on the fly during a condensed season.
Vesely’s regular season performance was uneven, partly because of an early-season hip injury, and he didn’t get an opportunity to become a regular contributor until injuries to Nene and Trevor Booker left Coach Randy Wittman with little choice but to start him. Although he showed an improved jumper in Las Vegas during summer league, Vesely struggled to stay out of foul trouble.
With time to work on his shot and gain a clearer understanding of his role this offseason, Vesely should be able to offer a clearer representation of what he has the potential to become: a high-energy, Andrei Kirilenko-type small forward or a power forward with the speed and athleticism provide mismatches on both ends.
Vesely will have to fight even harder for minutes, with the addition of Okafor and continued development of Kevin Seraphin but he could also get some time at center since he is the tallest player on the roster.