Jan Vesely began his NBA career in the most pathetic way possible, airballing his first free throw attempt. After shooting under 30% from the charity stripe through January, Vesely raised his overall free throw percentage over 50% by April. The rest of his game progressed similarly as he became more assertive, aware, and controlled on both ends of the court as the 2011-12 season wore on.
Vesely was drafted high enough that he'd typically face a great deal of pressure as he enters his second NBA season. Fortunately, teammates Nene Hilario, John Wall, and Bradley Beal will draw the majority of fan and media scrutiny, saving him from the temptation to move away from his strengths as a glue guy in favor of a more prominent offensive role. Nonetheless, 2012 is an important season for the athletic Czech, as there are fundamental improvements he must make in order to have any hope of playing a prominent role on an elite team.
Offense: Vesely's offensive game was limited to dunks and garbage buckets last year and that's unlikely to change any time soon. Vesely is a terrible jump shooter, having made all of three field goals from 10 or more feet away from the basket last year according to hoopdata.com, and his 53% shooting from the foul line doesn't bode well for his future growth as a shooter. Vesely is a great finisher around the rim, but struggles to get there, with a poor handle (he turned the ball over on 17% of his possessions last season) hampering his potential growth as a slasher. Fortunately, he's not a complete negative on the offensive end due to his above-average passing and off-ball movement. While he's unlikely to ever become the kind of scorer teams typically hope for with a high lottery pick, he should improve next year as he gains more confidence and experience playing at the NBA level.
While Vesely's season as a whole could be looked at as a mild disappointment, there is one reason to hold out hope that he could break out next year: he improved dramatically throughout the season, showing a noticeable increase in his confidence and assertiveness from month to month. Vesely's extremely unlikely to arrive at training camp with a reliable midrange game this year, but if he can refine his mechanics and touch to the point where he can make 70% or more of his free throws, a respectable jumper shouldn't be too far away.
Defense: Vesely struggled as a defender during his debut season (387th in the NBA in points per possession as a defender as per MySynergySports, 17.8 opponent PER as per 82games), frequently being bullied in the paint due to his thin frame, but his long-term outlook is nonetheless very favorable. With good length, lateral quickness, hops, and defensive awareness, Vesely could eventually become an elite help defender and pick and roll stopper, although he was more good than great last year (.88 points allowed per possession, 53rd in the NBA).
Next season should see Vesely become a net-positive on the defensive end, especially if he can cut his foul rate (5.2 per 36 minutes), although he'd be a better fit playing next to a stronger, more traditional center than Nene or Emeka Okafor. Playing with more experienced teammates should also help him avoid picking up cheap fouls and getting beaten by his man, as a lot of the team's defensive issues stemmed from poor rotations from big men who are no longer with the team.
Outlook: Vesely is athletic and knows how to play, so he'll be able to contribute this year. The question is how much and in what areas other than help defense. His shooting and ball handling woes are common among young big men, but Vesely is a much better passer than the typical project. His form on his jump shot isn't awful and he looked good in the Summer League so there's reason for optimism as far as his offensive growth. As part of a crowded big man rotation he could go unnoticed due to low minutes, but it's a relatively safe bet that he has a Taj Gibson-esque season this year.
Statistics, Per 36 Minutes
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