As they enter their third seasons, Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton have fallen well short of the expectations the Washington Wizards had for them when they were selected in the first round of the 2011 NBA draft. Instead of being energetic complements to point guard John Wall, the two forwards have been enigmatic and erratic, spending all of last season trading spots in Coach Randy Wittman’s doghouse.
Now, with the NBA summer league in Las Vegas set to begin Saturday, Vesely and Singleton will look to regain their confidence and ensure that the franchise’s rebuilding efforts don’t move on without them.
“This is a big year,” Wittman said. “They’ve got to show me who is going to step up and being worthy of continuing on. We’re at that point.”
The Wizards have until the end of October to pick up the fourth-year options on both players, giving Vesely and Singleton a limited window to avoid becoming unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2014 — and placing much more importance on a series of otherwise meaningless summer exhibitions that most veterans use to gain repetitions or stay in shape.
“I always feel pressure,” Singleton said. “I control my situation, but I don’t control my situation. My play will show that they should pick me up, but I’ll be going out there fighting for other teams if they don’t. I’m just going to play my best. Pick up my intensity and be the defender that I used to be.”
Vesely, the sixth overall pick in 2011, had the more disappointing season of the two, with his production moving in reverse from an uneven rookie season and his confidence shattered. He struggled to keep his point and rebound totals above his personal fouls and was afraid to draw contact because it usually resulted in a trip to the dreaded free throw line, where he shot an anemic 30.8 percent. Vesely even told teammate A.J. Price that he was scared to shoot free throws.
“The only thing was I found myself fighting with myself, just to get my head straight,” Vesely said. “To stay ready all the time is hard. I learned from this season and I worked this offseason to stay ready every second.”
Vesely’s problems actually started last July in Las Vegas, when his first summer league experience became a platform for indecisiveness, poor positioning and frequent fouling. But what often gets overlooked from that five-game nightmare is a sprained ankle suffered at the start of the final game that Vesely said stunted his usual offseason training.
This summer, Vesely said he has been training twice a day in Los Angeles, working to improve his jump shot and his strength. Given his limited skills, the 7-foot Vesely has been a project without a position in Washington. Wittman has used the athletic big man at center during this week’s summer league minicamp, but Vesely will likely find himself tussling for minutes at power forward with Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin and even Singleton.
“This whole summer is real important for me,” said Vesely, who also will play for his native Czech Republic at the FIBA European championships in September. “I try to work hard and just take advantage from the summer league to get some playing time, some opportunity to show myself and just keep working after that.”
Singleton is also eager to get back his footing after being forced to take a step back last season, when the Wizards added Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster. He went from starting 57 of 66 games of the lockout-shortened season to appearing in 57 of the 82 games in his second season, with just 11 starts.
“They just went vet. Nothing I could do. Second-year player, you have to wait your turn,” said Singleton, who will have to once again fight for minutes at two of the most unsettled positions, especially after the team drafted Otto Porter Jr. third overall last month.
In his exit interview, Singleton was told by Wittman that his inconsistent jumper made it hard for him to trust him with more minutes. Wall has expressed a desire for the team to add a big man who can stretch the floor, and Singleton has been working hard this summer to improve the mechanics on his shot and possibly earn that role.
“I wasn’t blessed with the best jump shot. I was blessed with everything else. I’ve got to get better,” Singleton said. “I have to make sure my jumper is consistent to fill that role for him. If not, they’ll get somebody else. It’s definitely urgency. . . . I just have to get back on the court. That’s all I’m worried about. Once I get out there, my play will show.”
Gene Wang contributed to this report.