On the same day the Washington Wizards defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder for their most dramatic win of the season Monday, Jan Vesely finally overcame one of the more dubious statistics of the season, Chris Singleton got 6.1 seconds of playing time and Shelvin Mack was cut for the second time in three months.
Vesely, Singleton and Mack comprised a 2011 NBA draft class that was meant to enhance the rebuilding efforts for a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2008. But less than two years later, the team continues to struggle and await consistent production.
The absence of injured point guard John Wall — taken with the first overall pick of the 2010 draft — has greatly contributed to the Wizards getting off to a franchise-worst 5-28 start this season, but Vesely, the sixth overall pick in 2011, and Singleton, the 18th pick, are also foundering in their second seasons. Mack, the 34th selection, is waiting for another shot in the NBA.
The Wizards picked up third-year options for Vesely and Singleton before this season, an obvious indication the organization was expecting that both players would build upon the occasional promise displayed during maligned, lockout-shortened rookie campaigns. But Singleton now occupies a spot in Coach Randy Wittman’s doghouse that was previously reserved for Vesely, who had more fouls than points or rebounds through the first 31 games.
“Obviously, there have been struggles there. I’m not going to lie,” Wittman said recently when asked about Vesely and Singleton. “They’ve got to continue to work and we’ll continue to work with them.”
Vesely, a 7-foot forward from the Czech Republic, had his best game of the season on Monday during the Wizards’ 101-99 victory over Oklahoma City as he scored 10 points, grabbed seven rebounds and showed the high-flying energy and hustle that led the Wizards to believe he would be the perfect complement to a Wall-led up-tempo offense.
“Jan has played the way I want to see him play these last couple of games,” Wittman said. “He’s got to keep at a consistent level, the energy, the flying around, the running the floor, the offensive rebounding, defending, deflections. That’s who he is.”
Wall is expected to make his season debut on Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks, which should help Vesely, a player who lacks the ability to create his own offense but runs the floor well. Vesely admitted that his game has been affected by not having Wall around to direct traffic and look for him for fast-break lob dunks or his quick cuts to the basket, but he wouldn’t use it as the only excuse for averaging just 2.7 points and 2.5 rebounds — inferior numbers to his rookie season.
“It affects a little bit, but was all my fault. I wasn't ready. I wasn’t focused on the games,” said Vesely, who now has 68 points, 63 rebounds and 60 fouls this season. “Sometimes I try to do something I should not do, but I try to work on my game every day. It’s hard losing so many games and stay positive and stay confident.”
Singleton has gone from starting 57 games last season to falling completely out of the rotation. A 6-foot-8 forward with the versatility to defend multiple positions, Singleton has appeared in just four of the past nine games and played in a total of 23 minutes in those contests.
“Everybody is fighting for a spot on this team. Got talented guys,” said Singleton, who is averaging just 4.3 points and 3.6 rebounds this season. “So whatever works and whatever makes it a winning format is what we’re going to do. It’s definitely made me work harder. I’m spending more time on the court, definitely resting during the game. I’m just putting the work in so that when I do get the opportunity, I show them what I got.”
Drafted to serve as Wall’s primary backup, Mack had his minutes usurped by Jannero Pargo, a player who is currently out of the league, and Garrett Temple, who ensured a roster spot for the rest of the season after starting out in the NBA Development League.
All three were stunted initially by the 2011 NBA lockout, which prohibited contact with coaches and led to a limited training camp, and a midseason coaching change. This past offseason was meant to serve as an opportunity to build upon what they learned through challenging rookie campaigns, but the trio failed to dazzle in the NBA summer league and the Wizards also put them on alert with the acquisitions of veterans Ariza, Emeka Okafor, A.J. Price and Martell Webster. Singleton and Vesely are both used primarily at power forward, a position that also features Nene, Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker, who is also expected to return from a knee injury on Saturday to add to the logjam.
“Hopefully, you learn from that; how they are doing it and how they are being successful while they are out there,” Wittman said, when asked about the presence of more veterans and the competition for minutes. “I think it can be a positive if you use it that way.
“Sometimes situations like that arise and you can’t, because you’re not on the floor, let that detour your development,” Wittman said. “If you’re not confident when you step on the floor, you’re not going to be very productive, no matter who you are, and I think that’s the main thing that they have to strive to get, number one, and believe in themselves.”