WASHINGTON -- Kevin Seraphin remained in his jersey on the right side of the Washington Wizards' locker room, basking in the glory of a career performance in the Wizards' 93-85 win over the Orlando Magic. The press scrum had departed, and it was finally time for Seraphin to shower and get changed.
But before he did that, he had one more thing he wanted to accomplish. He turned to a media member holding a stat sheet and asked to take a look at it. "Thirteen rebounds," the media member said, figuring Seraphin wanted to know that he set a career high.
"No, no," Seraphin corrected him. "I wanted to check my minutes."
Seraphin had played 40 minutes, also a career high. When he saw, he raised his eyebrows, a sign of acknowledgment for just how far he has come in a short amount of time.
"I don't know how to explain it," he admitted when asked to talk about his development.
The Wizards may be limping towards another disappointing season, but Seraphin's progress at least provides a glimmer of hope for fans looking to take anything positive going forward. Last season, as a rookie, Seraphin averaged 7.1 fouls per 36 minutes in 58 games, was overwhelmed by the speed of the game and looked like another draft bust in the Ernie Grunfeld era. While he improved somewhat early this season, he was still picking up DNP-CDs (Coaches Decision) as recently as a month ago. Hopes of him turning into the physical force that he was projected to be -- on draft night in 2010, the French Guiana native, unable to speak much English at the time, simply jammed a fist into his hand when asked to describe what he'd bring to the Wizards -- were growing dimmer.
To us, that's what makes his improvement so remarkable. Since the Wizards dealt away JaVale McGee to acquire Nene, Seraphin has emerged. He's averaging 13.8 points and 7.4 rebounds on 56-percent shooting since the trade, displaying the kind of mobility, soft touch, comfort and physicality many hoped he'd provide, but few expected would come.
The Wizards' players themselves, though, saw a lot of this coming. Several noted how he was always capable, but just needed confidence and an opportunity. With Nene sidelined due to injury, coach Randy Wittman had no choice. Seraphin stepped into the lineup and made sure to take advantage. In 11 starts since the trade, Seraphin is averaging 15.9 points and nine rebounds per game on 55.2-percent shooting.
"If you play a lot, it'll come fast," he said. "When you play, you have to play to become like this," he said.
Of course, lots of players say after the fact that all they needed was confidence and an opportunity. What makes Seraphin different? A couple things stand out. For one, Seraphin had to learn to adjust to the speed of the NBA game. As a rookie, he was a bit out of shape, thanks to a summer knee injury that hurt his training. When he did play, he looked lost trying to process NBA offensive and defensive schemes. With his lift lagging due to conditioning and his brain stuck trying to dissect the complex stuff that was being thrown at him, Seraphin's confidence and game suffered.
A productive summer was needed, and that's exactly what Seraphin got. While most of his peers were trying to adjust their routines to the lockout, Seraphin was surprising many with the French National Team. Most expected he would be too young to earn a spot on the roster, but he impressed the coaches so thoroughly that he earned a spot on the roster when Ronny Turiaf suffered an injury. While he didn't play much during Eurobasket, the experience he gained there, as well as while playing for a Spanish team following the tournament until the lockout ended, was valuable in allowing him to process what was in front of him.
"Playing in Spain before helped me, playing in Euroleague, that helped me a lot with how to read the game," he said. "The more you play, the more you get experience and the more the game gets slower."
But perhaps the bigger factor was Seraphin's perseverance. Before every game, the Wizards' big men spend some time working with the coaches on basic things like post moves. Most of the time, everyone participates, but some players were there far often than others. Without fail, you could count on seeing Seraphin taking passes from assistant coach Gene Banks and spinning in left-handed hook shots against no defenders. It's just a small part of the preparation process, but it provides a window into what the rest of the Wizards have known all along.
"You don't have to put in a lot of work necessarily, but it's just the consistency," Cartier Martin said when asked about Seraphin's defining characteristic. "Continue to try to expand and work on little things. Put in a little time, a lot. He does that."
The World Championships experience, combined with the day-to-day commitment to his routine, has caused the game to slow down. Now, Seraphin knows what moves to make in the post. Now, he knows how to guard screen and roll, expertly cutting off Magic point guard Jameer Nelson several times when he tried to get to the basket. He still has his faults -- his rebounding prior to this game was sometimes underwhelming -- but he's grown so much that there's really no reason he can't address them.
"He's made it this far," Wittman said. "[But] I think there's a lot more in there that can be developed."
Eight years ago, Seraphin picked up a basketball for the first time. Two years ago, the Wizards drafted him knowing he might take some time to become a quality NBA player. Now, it's starting to happen, and a Wizards' frontcourt that looked barren two months ago now looks like it's stocked with bodies.
Eventually, Seraphin had to shower and get out of the locker room. As a Wizards' official prodded him to get a move on, Seraphin smiled and finally made his move away from the assembled media. You can forgive the guy for wanting to prolong his moment in the spotlight. At some point, all that repetition really has paid off.
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