Czech Mate for Monroe?

Vesely’s rare size-athleticism combo makes him a candidate for Pistons

Jan Vesely could complement Greg Monroe in the Pistons' frontcourt.
Photo courtesy of Google.com
Editor’s note: Pistons.com continues a 15-part series leading to the June 23 draft with a look at one of the possibilities for their pick at No. 8 in the first round, Czech forward Jan Vesely. Next: Donatas Motiejunas.

NBA scouts love the way Jan Vesely plays above the rim. His dunks were to basketball in Europe last season what Blake Griffin’s were to “SportsCenter.” The NBA people love Vesely’s enthusiasm for the game, his oft-stated desire to play in the world’s best league and the defensive potential his physical makeup suggests. They’re also pretty sure he has the requisite toughness to transform his talent into impact.

What they’ll have to get past is the relatively modest production Vesely managed last season for one of the premier European clubs, Partizan Belgrade.

Vesely, who at 6-foot-11 and 240 pounds has the length to play power forward and the athleticism to flip to the other side, averaged about 10 points and four rebounds a game in the Adriatic League and Euroleague competition alike. He shoots about 60 percent from the field, but that’s because so many of his attempts are dunks.

By all accounts, Vesely possesses an unrefined jump shot, though nobody thinks it’s not fixable. He’s a willing 3-point shooter, but he makes less than a third. He doesn’t make many plays for himself off the dribble because his ballhandling skills are rudimentary, and he missed more than half of his free throws last season.

Yet NBA scouts have had their eyes on him for more than two years simply because of the breathtaking possibilities Vesely projects as he’s running the wing or flashing from outside the paint to snatch a ball above the rim.

The Pistons were prepared to fully examine Vesely a year ago, when they came out of the lottery with the No. 7 pick, but Vesely ultimately removed his name from the draft and decided to build off of his superb finish for Partizan, which he helped lead to the Euroleague Final Four in 2010 and win the honor of FIBA Europe Player of the Year.

More on Jan Vesely
Country: Czech Republic

Size: 6-foot-11, 240 pounds

Age: 21 on draft night

The good: Long athlete at 6-foot-11 who’ll frequently make highlight-reel plays, appearing from out of the frame to snag rebounds or score on tip-dunks. … Plays hard and appears tough enough to handle NBA grind. … Has played at Europe’s highest level with long-time power Partizan Belgrade.

The bad: For all his length and athleticism, Vesely only averaged about four rebounds a game. He also doesn’t have a consistent jump shot or go-to moves off the dribble. Most of his scoring is done in transition or off of athletic plays at the rim.

The skinny: The Pistons would love to pair Greg Monroe with a frontcourt partner who plays above the rim and Vesely qualifies on that count. Of all the big men who are probably on their short list, he’s the one who’s closest to 50-50 as to whether he’ll be available with the No. 8 pick. Could be one of the two or three likeliest prospects to be a Piston.

Had Vesely stayed in the draft and Golden State done the expected and chosen Greg Monroe, the Pistons might have considered Vesely along with the likes of Ed Davis and Ekpe Udoh.

The Pistons are expected to get a firsthand look at Vesely later this week in Treviso, Italy, at the Eurocamp. He also will come to the United States about a week before the June 23 draft and, it is believed, will make himself available for interviews with certain lottery teams.

The 2010-11 season didn’t unfold the way Vesely expected, starting with the departure of the team’s coach. That next step up Vesely hoped to demonstrate never happened, yet he continues to be highly regarded by NBA teams, the majority of which believe his game is better suited to the style of play on this side of the Atlantic. It’s not unlike the belief that Ricky Rubio, who put up numbers far more pedestrian than Vesely’s, will thrive in the NBA environment.

It’s probably no better than 50-50 that Vesely lasts to the Pistons’ pick at No. 8. The most likely team to take him off the board is Washington at No. 6 – it’s easy to see the Wizards, coach Flip Saunders especially, scheming plays to put Vesely in position to throw down lobs from John Wall and finish Wall’s transition assaults. Washington is hopeful that Enes Kanter will last to No. 6, though that doesn’t seem very likely. The Wizards also could just as easily go for San Diego State small forward Kawhi Leonard for his rebounding and tenacity or Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas over Vesely, and if so then it would be unlikely Vesely would be picked by Sacramento at No. 7.

The other possibilities, it seems, ahead of the Pistons are Utah and Toronto. The Jazz, picking No. 3, are more likely to go with Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight or one of Kanter or Valanciunas, though. And Toronto, despite its affinity for international players, might not see the right fit with Vesely and Andrea Bargnani for a team that already has athletic but not skilled power forwards in Amir Johnson and last year’s lottery pick, Davis.

Would the Pistons view Vesely as the right fit next to Greg Monroe? That’s the question they will ask themselves as they compare all of the big men that could fall in their range – Valanciunas, Kanter (the least likely to fall to No. 8), Bismack Biyombo, Tristan Thompson, Donatas Motiejunas or the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff.

Vesely’s pure athleticism would complement Monroe well. The Pistons liked the mix of Monroe and Chris Wilcox down the stretch last season for Wilcox’s ability to play above the rim. Even if Wilcox, a free agent, returns to the Pistons, landing another high flyer would only increase the Pistons’ frontcourt athleticism.

Among the NBA comparisons Vesely stirs are Andrei Kirilenko – thus the belief that Utah will be interested, since Kirilenko is a pending free agent – for his length, athleticsm and defensive potential, and a name that will resonate with Pistons fans: Jonas Jerebko. Vesely is longer and more of a quick-twitch athlete than Jerebko and plays with a similarly high motor, but whether he would throw himself as fearlessly into the fray – the quality that most endears Jerebko to Pistons management, coaches and fans – is a question worth asking.

Ideally, the Pistons would come away from the lottery with a player who represents more of an inside scoring threat than Vesely appears to be. But that player probably doesn’t exist among the frontcourt candidates likely to be within their reach. Motiejunas and Marcus Morris are the two most likely to provide scoring punch, but neither is likely to do their scoring in the paint. The others – especially Biyombo, Thompson and Vesely – shape up as defenders and high-energy players. Valanciunas could be the one who emerges as an inside scorer.

But Vesely’s unique combination of size and athleticism is intriguing and makes him among the more serious candidates for selection with the No. 8 pick if he lasts that long.