It’s one of those embarrassing moments no player wants — shooting an air ball. Jan Vesely shot one on his first free throw attempt in the NBA. It’s a moment he would like to put behind him, except that pesky YouTube video still is still around as a reminder.
The good news for Vesely is that he’s one of the few Washington Wizards frontcourt players who isn’t hobbled right now. The bad news is that he’s struggling at a time when the team needs him to step up.
“Jan’s got to be more aggressive,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “Right now, he’s a little tentative when he’s rolling to the basket and finishing at the rim. It’s not with the authority that we’ve seen.”
The Wizards selected Vesely sixth overall in 2011, hoping that the 6-foot-11 forward would be an ideal big man to run in the open court with point guard John Wall. Vesely has shown flashes of talent and potential, but his inconsistency is becoming a concern.
Vesely has recorded more points than fouls only once in the first four preseason games, scoring 13 and racking up three fouls Oct. 13 against Cleveland.
In the preseason opener against Charlotte, Vesely had two points and five fouls. Against New York, his stat line read two points and four fouls. Against Brooklyn, he was scoreless on 0-for-3 from the floor with five fouls.
During training camp, Wittman has stressed tough play and aggressive defense without committing what he called dumb fouls. Wittman believes Vesely has the tools to develop as a power forward, but it has to happen soon.
“We’ve seen him do it, so it’s not like, ‘I don’t know if that kid can finish with authority,’” Wittman said. “I know he can, and he’s not doing that, basically. He’s been active defensively for us. It’s more on the offensive end because teams are going to play him that way. So when the opportunity gets it going to the basket, he’s got to take advantage of that more than he has.”
Vesely came into the league under less than ideal circumstances, thanks to the NBA lockout. In addition to adjusting to a new country and a new language, the Czech Republic native also missed having a standard offseason and training camp. His rookie year, he averaged 4.7 points and 4.4 rebounds and committed 2.7 fouls per game.
“It’s different basketball in Europe and back here, but it’s no excuse because I played one season here,” Vesely said. “I still try to accept this kind of basketball. It’s just the style of defending. You can play more with your body in Europe, so that’s the reason.”
Vesely said he worked hard in the offseason to improve his shot, but he still has the tendency to shoot air balls. Teammate Shelvin Mack estimated that Vesely shot about 10 a day in practice last year. Language barrier or not, Vesely is clear on the fact that the pressure is on for him to establish himself as a more dependable player.
“I work hard, back home in Czech, in L.A., and of course in D.C. before training camp,” Vesely said. “I tried to work hard on this skill, and I hope I’m ready.”