LAS VEGAS — In many ways, forcing a former lottery pick entering his third season to play in the summer league is like having a kid take summer school courses to avoid being held back a grade. But Jan Vesely hasn’t approached his experience in Las Vegas as an all-out punishment: He’s using it as a chance to sharpen the skills he has focused on since the end of the regular season while also mixing in fun on the side with family and friends, including his fiancee, Eva Kodouskova.
Since arriving with the Washington Wizards on Thursday, Vesely has used his down time between practices and games to catch a drive to Hoover Dam and even a Cirque de Soleil show, which both served to be awe-inspiring experiences.
“We just wanted to see something, wanted to do something,” said Vesely, who has had a cheering section of family and friends for games at Cox Pavilion. “But there’s not much time right now.”
Vesely is running out of time to leave an impression with the Wizards, who drafted him sixth overall in 2011 and still await a favorable return on the investment. Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld, Coach Randy Wittman and other members of the team’s brass watched with discerning eyes from the bleachers, and teammates Bradley Beal, John Wall and Martell Webster sat courtside Sunday as Vesely recorded a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds in an 82-69 loss to the New York Knicks.
For the second game in a row, rookie Otto Porter Jr. struggled with his shot (4 for 13 from the floor) and his comfort within the offense as the Wizards continue to experiment with him at shooting guard. Porter had eight points, five rebounds and three assists but missed all three of his shots from three-point range.
“Right now, I’m just trying to figure out where can I play,” Porter said. “I challenge myself. It’s totally different from what I’m used to playing, so it’s like I’m learning all over again.
“This is a step higher than college, so you’ve got to get adjusted to that before you can play anywhere, you know. Just playing in the summer league, it lets you know where you’re at [and] what you can do.”
With the Wizards (0-2) utilizing Porter at a position he is unlikely to play in the regular season, the team doesn’t seem to be overly concerned with his difficulties in glorified scrimmages. But the stakes are much higher for Vesely and Chris Singleton, the 18th pick in 2011, who also is in Las Vegas trying to establish an identity and a possible spot within the rotation next season. Singleton scored in double figures for the second straight game, contributing 12 points despite shooting just 2 for 9 from the floor, and added five rebounds.
“These guys have to understand, if you aren’t contributing in the season, you have to define yourself and what you can do for a ballclub,” said Wizards assistant Don Newman, who coached the team in the second game. “If that’s defense or adding some offense, you’ve got to show it, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Through his first two seasons, Vesely has been a player without a position or purpose aside from running and jumping. But in Las Vegas, the Wizards have been using the 6-foot-11 big man at center, which has allowed him to reveal a developing game in the low post — but also left him to get abused at times on the defensive end.
“He’s always been one of those athletes that can run with the best of them. I tell you what, when he gets down there with his size and his athleticism, he’s going to find himself down there sometimes,” said Newman, noting that Vesely had a hard time with the “physicality” of Knicks center Jeremy Tyler.
“It’s tough for me to fight those guys under the basket, but it’s only summer league, and there [are] much more stronger players than there are here,” Vesely said.
Vesely sparked a mini-run in the fourth quarter when he soared for an alley-oop and slapped the ball off the backboard for a layup. He then had a rebound tip-in and later backed down his defender before hitting a turnaround jumper. But he revealed his burgeoning confidence early in the game, when he stepped to the foul line and calmly made his only two free throw attempts.
“That’s something I was working on. Just work and improve my shot, get my confidence back,” said Vesely, who trained in Los Angeles in preparation for summer league and will also represent the Czech Republic at the European basketball championships in September in Slovenia, where his professional basketball career began. “I’m going to do more in the next couple months before the season starts. I think it’s good. I can try those things here and sit down and just tell myself what I should continue doing.”
While Vesely is starting to feel more comfortable with his game, Porter is still waiting to find a rhythm. Porter said he hasn’t found time for many extracurricular activities in Las Vegas.
“I just came here to work hard,” he said. “I just need to settle down and play my game.”
Summer league invite Marquez Haynes led the team with 13 points, and second-round pick Glen Rice Jr. added nine.