As it turns out, Nene and Brian Cook weren’t the only bigs Washington acquired when it traded JaVale McGee, Nick Young and Ronny Turiaf. The Wizards also got the new-and-improved player who was buried on their bench. Wednesday’s game against Indiana presented more evidence of the discovery, yet another exciting chapter in “The Evolution of Kevin Seraphin.”
Seraphin scored a career-high 19 points and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds in the loss, continuing an impressive stretch of play since the trades March 15. He actually provided a glimpse of the future three games earlier, when he broke out for 14 points and nine rebounds in the Wizards’ shocking upset of the Los Angeles Lakers.
But the 6-foot-9 forward/center from French Guiana really took off after McGee’s departure. Seraphin played 1 minute, 35 seconds — with zeroes across the board — in the Wizards’ last game with McGee on the roster. Seraphin started the next game, contributing 12 points and nine boards in 29 minutes. He has reached double figures in scoring in 10 of the Wizards’ 13 games since the trade and recorded the first three double-doubles of his career.
“For a young man who just started playing basketball five years ago, it’s amazing,” said Nene, the player to whom Seraphin compared himself after being selected 17th overall by Chicago in the 2010 draft.
Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld has taken his share of lumps, justifiably so, for a number of ill-fated moves during his nine-year tenure. Arguing for his continued employment once his contract expires this summer is difficult, if not ill-advised.
But acquiring Seraphin and Kirk Hinrich from Chicago for the rights to Vladimir Veremeenko - and then dealing Hinrich for Jordan Crawford and a first-round pick that became Chris Singleton - definitely goes on the plus side of Grunfeld’s ledger.
Seraphin showed flashes during training camp and in practice this season, the result of playing overseas during the NBA lockout. He exhibited athleticism along with jump hooks and mid-range jumpers, accompanied by surprisingly soft touch and hands. But it never translated to games with any consistency.
“It’s a different when you get out on the big stage and you’re not on the practice floor,” coach Randy Wittman said.
Seraphin averaged just 11 minutes as a rookie last season, coming in injured and out-of-shape. This season was shaping up as nothing special, with Seraphin averaging 13 minutes, 3.6 points and 3.5 rebounds before the trades.
“The most difficult thing was to play with confidence,” Seraphin said Wednesday night. “When you don’t have confidence to play, you’re always looking at the bench and you’re scared to make mistakes.”
Wizards guard Roger Mason Jr., who occupies a locker next to Seraphin, bonded with him during training camp. And Seraphin soaked up everything he could from the eight-year veteran, who could relate to receiving inconsistent playing time as a young player. Mason never averaged more than 14 minutes during his first five seasons.
“We had a little joke where I’d ask him, ‘Are you ready?’ Mason said. “He wasn’t playing at the beginning of the year, but I was still asking if he’s ready. He continued to work hard and the moment his opportunity came, he was ready to maximize it.”
Nene has moved into the other locker next to Seraphin. Injuries have limited the Brazilian’s availability, another factor in Seraphin’s increased playing time. But having the player he modeled himself after in such close proximity could help Seraphin as much as McGee’s departure.
“I always said if they gave me my opportunity, I can play,” Seraphin said. “Roger told me to keep working. But whenever he asked me, I’d always say, ‘Hell yeah, I’m ready.”
Now he’s proving as much.