On the main Verizon Center court, Jan Vesely sank free throw after free throw. He had good form and a solid touch. The problem was, it was practice. In a game situation, Vesely is just as likely to launch an air ball as make the shot.
Drafted by the Wizards with the sixth overall pick last year, Vesely hasn't lived up to his potential. With Washington off to an 0-11 start, Vesely's deficiencies have become glaring. Still, coach Randy Wittman, desperately trying to find a winning combination, put Vesely into the starting lineup against the Utah Jazz on Nov. 17.
In his first four games as a starter, Vesely averaged 3 points and 2.5 rebounds. Through the team's first 11 games, Vesely has been held scoreless four times, has more fouls (30) than points (29) and is 3 for 13 from the line.
"He's got to become more of a basketball player on the floor and not a one-dimensional player," Wittman said. "You can't allow teams to not guard you. You've got to put yourself in the same position when that happens to do something positive from an offensive standpoint."
Vesely works on his shooting with the coaches every day in practice, leaving Wittman at a loss to understand why Vesely's ability to drain free throws and hit shots in practice fails him in game situations.
"I can't answer that question," Wittman said. "You got to believe, and you got to step up. That's what all free throw shooting is — repetition. You do the same thing, make sure you have a routine and step up and believe you're going to make it."
Asked to project where Vesely is headed long term, Wittman didn't mince words.
"He's going to determine that," Wittman said. "What does he want to be? Does he want to be a specialty one-dimensional guy or is he going to continue to develop, work and be a assertive when he's out there? He needs to play better. He's nonaggressive, and he can't play that way."
Despite having a season under his belt, albeit a lockout-shortened season, Vesely still has moments when he looks lost and out of synch with the rest of his team. Vesely knows as well as anyone that his game is a work in progress.
"I'm trying to do my best to put everything on the court," Vesely said. "I try to play hard defense, and offense will come. That's what I do, I try to play hard defense and build on it."
Although he's in the starting lineup, he's rarely on the court at clutch time. Like the rest of this inconsistent Wizards team, Vesely isn't sure how much he'll play on any given night but says the uncertainty is part of being on a struggling team.
Until Wittman sees improvement, Vesely's role could be just as hit-or-miss as his free throw shooting.
"If somebody from the bench comes and plays hard, plays good, I don't have a problem with that," Vesely said. If they play good basketball, I really don't have a problem with that. If I start a game, and somebody can step in and play hard, it's a good thing for the team."
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