Wizards' Kevin Seraphin making the most of his opportunity


Washington center Kevin Seraphin (13), the 17th overall selection in the 2010 draft, is averaging 12.5 points on 55.5 percent shooting, 6.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks since JaVale McGee was traded on March 15. (Mel Evans/Associated Press)

On one of those rare nights since he has been given the chance to play a significant number of minutes for the Washington Wizards, Kevin Seraphin had a game in which his decision-making in the low block wasn’t crisp and he was about a half-step too slow on defense.

Early in the Wizards’ embarrassing 110-98 loss Friday to the New Jersey Nets, Seraphin fumbled passes with his massive yet delicate hands and his jump hooks were long and wide. Afterward, a dejected Seraphin admitted to being physically and mentally fatigued from the Wizards’ grueling schedule and his increased playing load. But he couldn’t hide his disappointment that a better performance by him might have helped the team be more competitive, or even win the game.

“I know when I’m not good on the court, I’m not helping the team,” said Seraphin, who overcame his rough start to finish with 15 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots. “So I feel bad.”

Seraphin’s somber reaction to an off night is an indication of how far he has come in such a short time. Seldom-used and considered a possibly wasted first-round draft pick through the season’s first 52 games, Seraphin has since begun to justify President Ernie Grunfeld’s decision to select him 17th overall in the 2010 draft.

Seraphin has made the departure of JaVale McGee tolerable and Nene’s absence due to injury manageable for the Wizards (12-44), who will take on the Charlotte Bobcats (7-47) Monday at Time Warner Cable Arena.

A 6-foot-9, second-year big man from French Guyana, Seraphin has scored in double figures in 11 of the past 14 games and recorded the first three double-doubles of his career. He has outplayed Memphis all-star center Marc Gasol, held his own against New Orleans’s former all-star center Chris Kaman and recently had a career-high 19 points and 10 rebounds against Indiana all-star center Roy Hibbert, a Georgetown product.

“I can be a game changer. So, I try to be,” said Seraphin, 22, who is averaging 12.5 points on 55.5 percent shooting, 6.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks since McGee was traded on March 15. He averaged just 3.6 points and 3.5 rebounds in just 32 games before the deal.

“I was waiting for this moment,” he added. “Not the trade. I was waiting for them to give me an opportunity to play.”

From the moment he started playing basketball at age 16, Seraphin has been compared to Nene, another rugged big man with South American roots. So when the Wizards acquired Nene, Seraphin was given an opportunity to get advice from his idol.

“I just try to learn from him. He tries to show me everything he knows,” Seraphin said. “He’s had a really good career. If I do it like him or be better than him, I take it.”

Nene has been available for just six games since he arrived in Washington with Brian Cook in the three-team trade that sent McGee to Denver and Nick Young to the Los Angeles Clippers. Injuries to his back and left foot have hampered him, but he is passing along his knowledge to Seraphin the way Marcus Camby and Juwan Howard did for him at the beginning of his career in Denver.

Before the Nets game, Nene sat down with Seraphin to provide some pointers on how to be in better defensive position.

“For someone who has been playing basketball just five years, [Seraphin’s talent] is a special gift,” said Nene, a 10-year veteran from Brazil. “He have that kind of hunger and understand, in the NBA, you have to learn fast. He’s playing well, with a lot of passion.”

Seraphin has a soft touch near the basket, can shoot jump hooks with either hand, is surprisingly light on his feet despite a bulky frame, and is a capable one-on-one defender who enjoys physical play. But before this recent run, Seraphin could hardly summon those skills for even occasional flashes. He had a successful duel with Dwight Howard in Orlando and upstaged Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the upset win over the Los Angeles Lakers but those performances were easy to dismiss as aberrations. Not anymore.

Coach Randy Wittman said Seraphin showed signs in practice at times, but it’s different “when you get out on the big stage and you’re not on the practice floor.

“He’s growing,” Wittman added. “He has a lot of confidence, and that’s the main thing in our league. If you don’t have any confidence, I don’t care how skilled you are, you’re not going to perform very well.”

Seraphin said he arrived in Washington this season with confidence, after earning a spot on the French national team and spending the lockout playing for perennial Spanish League power Caja Laboral.

But “it just break my confidence because I was not really playing,” he said. “My first half was not very good. I feel bad about that. I don’t play like before, because I tried to be perfect on the floor and that’s how you make mistake. Now, I play the way I know how to play.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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