The showman who became a cult figure in Serbia for his infectious emotion and improbable dunks, who once beat out Ricky Rubio for honors as the best young player in Europe and boldly introduced himself at the 2011 NBA draft with a spontaneous smooch with his now-fiancee shies away from the stage these days.
After 14 games, the Wizards have one win and Vesely, the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft out the Czech Republic, has more fouls (34) than points (29) or rebounds (30).
“He needs to play better. No question,” Coach Randy Wittman said recently. “He’s non-aggressive and he can't play that way.”
Until Vesely begins to resemble the player who averaged 8.5 points and 7.0 rebounds while starting the final 15 games last season, Wittman is in no rush to put him back into his regular rotation. A one-time starter, the 7-foot Vesely has seen the floor for a total of 14 minutes in the past three games — including when Wittman simply needed a tall person to challenge an inbounds for the final second of the Wizards’ lone win, over Portland.
“It’s a team sport and if somebody plays better, I have to respect that,” said Vesely, who is averaging just 2.1 points and 2.1 rebounds in his second season — basically half of what he produced during a maligned rookie campaign. “I just need to keep playing hard, work on my skills every day and if I get a chance, I have to use it in the right way. That’s the only thing I can do.”
Vesely, 22, said he focused on improving his shooting during his first full offseason, but his field goal percentage has dipped (from 53.7 percent to 43.3 percent) and his free throw shooting has declined considerably (from 53.2 percent to 23.1 percent). He has officially been credited with missing 10 of his 13 attempts from the foul line, but one air ball never made the stat sheet because it was so short that players were called for a lane violation while going after the rebound.
“When I was in Europe, I was winning all the time. Sometimes we lose a lot of games in a row and I’m not used to it,” Vesely said. “I mean, it’s tough for everybody to play with confidence.”
Wittman had hoped that putting Vesely in the starting lineup would help him regain some confidence and yield better results this season. But in four starts, his production was only slightly better, his long arms and activity had little impact, and he rarely saw the floor when the game ended.
“He’s proven he can do it. That’s the point. Now he’s got to go out and do that,” Wittman said.
The Wizards have yet to have John Wall on the court this season and Vesely probably feels his absence more than any player on the roster. Wall’s speed helped the Wizards get fast-break opportunities and he was never afraid to throw a lob from beyond the three-point line — or even half court — and watch Vesely throw it down.
“I like fast basketball. Running with John Wall on the fast break, that’s nice, but it’s not everything. I just need to know how to play with everybody,” Vesely said. “I blame myself for that.”
With the team unable to generate many baskets and forced to execute more in the half- court offense, Vesely is failing to contribute as he has grown accustomed. He has just two dunks this season. And, after scoring in double figures seven times in the last 15 games last season, Vesely has converted a field goal in just seven of the 14 games.
“It’s different. It’s a lot of new guys, and we’re starting from the beginning, Vesely said. “We’re still trying to find out how to play the right way. The team is good, we just need to keep playing hard and stay together.”
Wittman said Vesely was playing recently with “no rhyme or reason” and didn’t hold back when asked what the future holds for him. “He's going to determine that. What's he want to be: Does he want to be a specialty one-dimensional guy? Or is he going to continue to develop and work to be assertive when he's out there? If there was one easy thing, I would’ve pushed that button a long time ago.”