Coach Randy Wittman proved that he isn’t afraid to gamble and experiment in just his second game, as he benched Andray Blatche and gave rookie Jan Vesely his first career start on Friday against Houston.
“Coach’s decision. My decision,” Wittman explained after the Wizards lost, 103-76, to the Rockets.
The move to replace Blatche with Vesely was somewhat surprising since Blatche was coming off his fourth double-double of the season, with 17 points and 10 rebounds on Wednesday in the Wizards’ 92-75 win against Charlotte. But Vesely provided a spirited effort in his 19-minute stint against the Bobcats as well, scoring six points, grabbing six rebounds and blocking three shots.
And considering how effective Vesely was defensively against Luis Scola when the Wizards faced the Rockets earlier this month – when he helped hold Scola to just two points in the fourth quarter – Wittman decided to see if Vesely could do it again. He couldn’t.
Scola was again held scoreless in the fourth quarter, but that was only because Rockets Coach Kevin McHale didn’t play him. Scola scored 19 points on 8 for 13 shooting in just three quarters, using his strength and savvy to school Vesely in the low post. He also ignited the decisive 46-21 run the Rockets used to close out the game, as Houston went to him on four consecutive possessions and scored eight unanswered points.
“We let Scola get into a groove,” Wall said. “He just scored and did whatever he wanted to do in the post. We started to double team him and he basically had a field day, making shots and getting offensive rebounds. That hurt us.”
Scola neutralized Vesely’s strengths - length, quickness and athleticism - by taking a more measured, disciplined means to attack him with baseline jumpers and jump hook. Wittman felt Vesely “learned a valuable lesson against Scola,” but wouldn’t say if he planned to keep the 7-foot forward from the Czech Republic in with the starting five on Saturday against the Bobcats.
Vesely played well in the first half Friday, scoring five of the Wizards’ first seven points. He had a rapid, two-hand putback dunk, and made a spin move and layup but didn’t score the rest of the game. He did grab a career-high tying six rebounds and three steals but was held in check – with the exception of two turnovers – in the second half.
Vesely, the 6th overall pick in last June’s draft, is very experienced and not the typical rookie, having spent the past three seasons playing for Partizan Belgrade in Serbia. He is averaging 2.7 points and 2.8 rebounds, and is still trying to get adjusted to the NBA game, which he said is ”faster, and it’s much more stronger.”
His influence on the game is not always evident through the box score, because activity and hustle aren’t always measured. But he makes his share of deflections, keeps balls alive, and rarely gives up on plays. Rashard Lewis calls him “kangaroo” because he’s always hopping around.
“Jan is a kid, from a defensive standpoint, that gives us a presence,” Wittman said. “He’s a young kid that’s going to get bigger and stronger, but he knows situations, reads situations well. And I’ve been pleased. I thought he played well in our Charlotte game [on Wednesday]. I thought, leading up to the Charlotte game, he’s had some stints. So hopefully, he can continue that.”