Jan Vesely gets to run as Nene sits

December 22, 2012

Jan Vesely played for 26 minutes on Friday. (Duane Burleson/Associated Press)

Jan Vesely sprinted down the middle of the lane, caught the sweet, no-look pass from Jordan Crawford, bobbled it a little but, then soared to the rim and cocked the ball back before throwing an emphatic dunk. 

“I just, every time, I try to use my chance and play as hard as I can,” said Vesely, whose second-quarter jam was one of the Wizards‘ few highlight plays in a 100-68 debacle against Detroit and was made mostly irrelevant since it only brought his team with 17 points.

But it mattered to Vesely, who rarely gets to run the floor these days and rarely scores when he does. With Nene out because of a sore left foot, Coach Randy Wittman finally, desperately called on the sixth overall pick of the 2011.

The 6-foot-11 second-year forward from the Czech Republic responded with six points –his highest scoring total since scoring seven in the season opener in Cleveland on Oct. 30. He had scored just four points in his previous six appearances.

“I think I did a few things, but like everybody after this game, I have to play better than that,” said Vesely, who added four fouls, two steals, a rebound and an assist in a season-high 26 minutes.

His season remains clouded by one of the more disconcerting stats, as Vesely still has more fouls (41) than points (37) or rebounds (35). He is also now 3 for 17 from the foul line this season after missing two more at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Mich.

Vesely has gone from reserve to starter to buried so deep in the rotation of a three-win team that he is now backing up a veteran on a partially-guaranteed contract.

His confidence has shattered like a fallen piece of glass, and Wittman’s confidence in him is so low that Vesely gets opportunities only because there are no other alternatives; when the roster is so depleted that he has to play.

Vesely has not appeared in eight games this season, including the previous two against Atlanta and Orlando.

The DNP-CD against the Magic was more alarming because the Wizards had only 10 players and Wittman chose to use nine of them. Vesely was battling a cold, and his teammates were jokingly keeping their distance in the locker room before the eventual 90-83 loss.

But Vesely clearly wanted to get on the floor and play, as he sat next to the injured Bradley Beal and tried to encourage his teammates from the bench. Afterward, Wittman explained that there were “not enough minutes” for Vesely.

“It’s tough, especially when the team is losing,” Vesely said of his current role. “Everybody try to stay positive but sometimes it’s hard. I try to practice everyday, work on my game and stay ready for my chance to play.”

When Vesely entered Friday’s game, the Wizards were already down 11-2 and he initially appeared nervous and uncomfortable. He had his first dunk attempted blocked by Pistons 19-year-old rookie center Andre Drummond. He then tried to drive around Drummond for a left handed layup and had that shot swatted away as well.

The dunk allowed him to settle in and relax, though he still lacked the same high energy and relentless approach that made him impossible to contain in the second part of last season.

Wittman declined to answer when asked about Vesely’s performance, so upset with a lackluster team effort that he kept his post-game interview down to less than two minutes. Vesely was also disappointed by the outing, refusing to blame the shellacking on being shorthanded.

“We miss a couple of guys, but we still have players to play,” Vesely said. “Guys that are here now healthy, have to be ready to play. We just need to forget this game and play 200 percent better the next game.”

And Vesely will have to wait again and see if he will get another chance to contribute.

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Michael Lee | December 22, 2012