Point guard John Wall and center Nene, whose injuries hamstrung Washington’s start to last season, are healthy and happy. So are small forward Martell Webster as well as shooting guard Bradley Beal, who finished last season on the shelf.
However, the Wizards being the Wizards, not only has top draft pick Otto Porter been unable to practice in training camp, but power forward Emeka Okakfor is sidelined indefinitely with a herniated disc.
While burly, 6-foot-7, 240-pound fourth-year man Trevor Booker is also getting a shot at replacing the 6-10, 252-pound Okafor after missing nearly half of last season with injuries, the extended absence of Washington’s top defensive player represents a major second opportunity for 23-year-old power forwards Kevin Seraphin, a 6-9, 275-pound Frenchman, and Jan Vesely, a 6-11, 240-pound Czech, to prove their value after disappointing 2012-13 seasons.
“Do I have expectations for Kevin to have a better year than he did last year? Yes,” said Wizards coach Randy Wittman. “His confidence level [is up after] being here pretty much all summer working on his game to make that next step.”
After hitting 53 percent of his shots and averaging 4.9 rebounds per game while making 21 starts in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, Seraphin slipped to 46 percent shooting and 4.4 rebounds last year although his scoring increased from 7.9 to 9.1 points per game. He played 21.8 minutes per game (compared to 20.6) despite making just eight starts in his third NBA season.
“I’m not really disappointed with last year,” said Seraphin, the 17th overall pick in the 2010 draft. “I still had a better season than the season before when I was just trying to find out how to play in this league. This season, I have to be better for sure. I need to improve everything. I need to get better on my shot selection, my percentage. Forty six is not good enough for a big man. I should be more like 55. On defense, I have to get better at rebounding. I’m working hard at that.”
Wittman likes how Seraphin and Vesely are working now. Vesely started last night’s preseason opener against Brooklyn and led all rebounders with 12 while scoring just three points on 1-of-4 shooting.
Seraphin scored 13 points in 6-of-12 shooting and added seven rebounds while playing a team-high 32:59.
“We’re going to have to pick up those nine [Okafor rebounds] somewhere and Jan did a great job on the boards tonight,” Wittman said. “He was very active, five of them offensive [rebounds] and that’s what he’s capable of doing.”
Wittman believes that Vesely, the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft, has regained the confidence he lost last season when his shooting percentage (down from .537 to .500), points per game (2.5 from 4.7), rebounds per game (2.4 from 4.4) and minutes per game (11.8 from 18.9) all sank from his rookie year.
“It’s really believing in himself and going out and playing with that confidence and not letting anything affect his demeanor and the way he carries himself on the floor,” Wittman said. “You miss a free throw, you miss a shot, you miss a block out — play through it. Next play, move on. And he’s going to do something good to overcome that. That’s what I saw this summer.”
Vesely said he has put last year behind him after playing in the NBA’s summer league in Las Vegas and then starring for the Czech Republic in this summer’s European Championships.
“[That] helped my confidence and now I’m ready to go,” said Vesely, who termed 2012-13 the bottom of his basketball career. “I came to the NBA from a team where I was a leading player. I have to prove myself I can play here. This is my third season. I’m getting used to it. . . . First year was hard. Second year was bad. It takes time, but I think I’m right where I have to be.”
Okafor averaged 9.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and a block per game last year while shooting just .477 from the field. But his 77 games were 15 more than anyone else on the team played. Just knowing that the 30-year-old was going to be there every night was a positive.
“I can take Emeka’s spot for sure,” Seraphin said. “I can do what he does.”
Okafor and Seraphin averaged 18.8 points and 13.4 rebounds between them in a shade under a full 48 minutes per game last year. If Seraphin and Vesely, with possibly some help from Booker who didn’t play last night because of a sore knee, can match that production during Okafor’s extended absence, the Wizards will be that much closer to ending their drought after five years out of the playoffs.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.