Jan Vesely concludes every Washington Wizards practice in pursuit of 10. Vesely steps to the foul line, where he earns two points for making two free throws in a row, no points for making one of two, and is deducted two points for missing both.
He can’t leave the floor until he has 10 points, and the process takes a bit longer on some days than others. But for Vesely to even be engaged in such a shooting game is an indication of the confidence the 6-foot-11, second-year forward from the Czech Republic is developing. After all, Vesely’s introduction to the NBA was shooting a wide-right, air-ball free throw in his debut.
“I just went into the offseason with the goal to make my shot better,” Vesely said. “I tried to work hard on this skill, and I hope I’m ready.”
Vesely’s non-dunks during his rookie season were often misadventures, with the trajectory of the ball rarely matching the fluidity of his form. Former coach Flip Saunders hired a shooting coach to work with Vesely after just one training camp practice last season, and Vesely never seemed comfortable attempting anything from outside of 10 feet.
Teammate Shelvin Mack estimated that Vesely “probably shot about 10 air balls a day in practice” last season, but that didn’t stop Coach Randy Wittman from encouraging him to take open shots in games, though he shot just 15.5 percent (9 for 58) from outside the restricted area.
Vesely doesn’t have the same apprehension this season, as he coolly dropped a baseline jumper during Tuesday’s practice at George Mason.
“He’s not hesitating. He’s taking shots,” Wittman said, mentioning a 14-foot (missed) jumper during the Wizards’ 100-88 exhibition loss in Charlotte. “Whether they go in or not, that’s what you’ve got to do. And that’s where he’s got to continue to grow.”
The Wizards are looking for Vesely to improve, especially with owner Ted Leonsis all but conceding last week that the team is better equipped to develop its own stars than to recruit them in free agency. Vesely was drafted sixth overall in 2011, with the Wizards hoping that the athletic and wiry forward could become a suitable running mate for point guard John Wall in the open floor.
Though he has been compared to former all-star Andrei Kirilenko, Vesely is still searching for his niche. Vesely believes he is “better prepared than last season.”
His summer workouts, and an invitation to longtime NBA assistant Tim Grgurich’s big man camp, were interrupted by a sore Achilles’ tendon, but Vesely said “now it’s fine” and hasn’t had any complications through the first week of camp. He is also more relaxed after getting engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Eva Kodouskova, at the end of last season.
Vesely struggled in his first season, as he adjusted to a different league, a new country and spoke minimal English. The lockout also served as a hindrance, with visa problems keeping him from arriving in Washington until a few days before his first practice.
When he finally arrived, Vesely was stunted by a hip injury that kept him out for a few weeks. Wittman gave Vesely a chance to start his final 15 games after losing Nene and Trevor Booker to injury last April, and Vesely averaged 8.5 points on 55.1 percent shooting and 7.0 rebounds.
Vesely again started in the preseason opener with Nene, Booker and Emeka Okafor sitting out because of various injuries, but he knows he will have to work harder for playing time when that trio returns.
Wittman already knows what to expect from his more veteran front-court options, but he is hopeful that Vesely can keep away from the “dumb fouls” that plagued him in the Las Vegas summer league, where there was a 10-foul limit per game and Vesely had 27 in four games. Vesely blamed his mistakes on being overly aggressive and still adjusting to an NBA style that is less physical than the one he has grown accustomed to playing in Europe.
“You can play more with your body in Europe,” Vesely said. “It’s no excuse because I played one season here. I still try to accept this kind of basketball. . . . I just need to slow down a little bit. I need to think a little bit how to play defense.”
Wittman only wants to see consistent effort from Vesely.
“If he doesn’t play with his energy, enthusiasm — all those things that go into his game — he’s not effective,” Wittman said. “He’s not a guy that we throw the ball to on the low box to play off of. He’s got to create those things and when he’s just going through it.”
And possibly hit an open shot.