In NBA circles, Jan Vesely is considered a bust. The Wizards took the athletic Czech power forward with the sixth pick in the 2011 NBA draft to catch lobs from John Wall and become part of a young core with tons of potential. It did not go according to plan.
He would notoriously airball his first NBA free throw attempt, and that set the tone for a rocky rookie year. He averaged 4.7 points and 4.4 rebounds in 19 minutes per game and never improved upon those numbers with Washington. He continued to be dreadful from the line, shooting 53% from the stripe (sadly a career high…Jan shot in the 30s the following two seasons). In February 2014 the Wiz effectively gave up on Vesely, trading him to the Nuggets in a three-team deadline deal that sent Andre Miller to Washington and Eric Maynor to the Sixers.
Vesely finished the year in Denver and when free agency hit, he packed his bags for Istanbul to play for Fenerbahçe Ülker of the Turkish League and Euroleague. It has turned out to be a harmonious marriage.
In his maiden voyage along the Bosphorus, Vesely helped Fenerbahçe to its first ever Euroleague Final Four with averages of 11 points on a ridiculously efficient 63% shooting, 6 rebounds and more than a block and steal per game. Just this week, Vesely chipped in 8 and 5 and played his heart out as Fenerbahçe took down the reigning Euroleague champions, Real Madrid, 77-66.
Vesely’s problem was, is and might always be that he can’t shoot. He missed his only three-point attempt in the NBA and missed all four last season in Europe. He shot 40% for his three-year NBA career from the line and hit 57% last year. In the era of the Stretch Four, competent perimeter shooting is becoming a must for power forwards.
That’s why Fenerbahçe decided to play him at the five.
Just as the role of the power forward has shifted, so has the role of the center. More shooters on the floor means more space, and more space means more ground for centers to cover defensively. Hulking, immobile stiffs have been replaced with rangy athletes that can move their feet, make prompt rotations and switch to smaller, quicker players when defending the pick and roll. Vesely does just that for Fenerbahçe, also adding an element of rim protection that the club sorely needed after rolling out slowpokes like Oguz Savas, Mike Batiste and David Andersen before Jan’s arrival.
On offense, Vesely is a screen setter, a rim runner and a finisher (Remember: 63%). He plays with a dynamic backcourt that includes creators like Bobby Dixon, Ricky Hickman and Bogdan Bogdanovic, and bigs guarding the pick and roll against Fenerbahçe have a tough decision to make: stay with Vesely and let the guards eat up the middle, or hedge out and risk one of those guards dropping a lob pass over his head and into Vesely’s waiting embrace.
And if he catches it with room to run, look out for the boom. Just ask the Spurs’ new 7-foot-3 center Boban Marjanovic who stared down the barrel in a Euroleague matchup last season.
He is not a great passer but he keeps the ball moving and finds open shooters. He runs his ass off in transition. He’s got really good hands at the ends of long arms. He is an intense competitor and a good teammate. And though Vesely is still not a threat to knock down a jumper, he has been polishing off a runner that looked great for the Czech Republic in this Summer’s EuroBasket and could make him potent facing up from the elbows.
On top of all this he’s still just 25 years old, and he hasn’t lost any of the explosive athleticism or length that made him a lottery pick. When his contract is up with Fenerbahçe after the end of the 2016-17 season, he’ll be 27. Now that we’ve seen what Vesely looks like in the role he was born to play, he will have cash thrown at him from both sides of the pond. Dollars. Euros. Lira. Yuan. Along with Real Madrid, CSKA Moscow, Barcelona and Olympiacos, Fenerbahce is considered a top 5 Euroleague team at overseason online gambling sites.
A strong, mobile 7-footer that flies all over the floor and has figured out how to play? These types of trees don’t grow on…trees.
There is a good chance that the fat cats at Fenerbahçe will outbid whichever NBA teams make overtures (they forked Pero Antic away from the Hawks this Summer). Vesely has become the most integral part of a Fenberbahçe defense that struggled before he got there, and Fenerbahçe is one of the only teams with the money to pay the steep price Vesely will demand. And they’ll be happy to pay it, too. Because they know they need a force like Vesely to hoist that Euroleague trophy they’ve had their eye on for so long.
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So in strictly-NBA terms, yes: Jan Vesely was a bust.
But if Fenerbahçe wins a championship this season, they won’t give half a damn what he did for the Wizards or Nuggets. And if your team signs him next summer, neither should you.
Nick Gibson covers international basketball for Sheridan Hoops. He spent the last two seasons working in the Atlanta Hawks front office scouting international players and is the editor of Euroleague Adventures.