Partizan Belgrade has been the story of this Euroleague season so far, reaching the Final Four with an estimated overall budget of ca. three million Euros and reminding all of us that it is very well possible to compete against the very elite of European basketball clubs, even in this league that has frequently been criticised for its imbalance of power. Partizan’s run to the Final Four will guarantee for a very delicate matchup in early May: In Paris, the Serbs will face Olympiacos Piraeus, which has more than one player on its roster whose own net income easily surpasses Partizan’s annual club budget.
The fact that Partizan would one day make it this far had to be reckoned with. What’s surprising is the timing. This roster is built around a core of solid players that were hardly stars on the international scene before the beginning of the season: Aleks Maric had just spent a season in the ACB as Curtis Borchardt’s backup in Granada, Lawrence Roberts had been with arch rivals Red Star and Bo McCalebb had provided solid scoring for TBL quarter finalist Mersin. Meanwhile, Dusan Kecman returned home after a wasted season in Athens to complete the roster around the reliable but unspectacular home-grown core of Petar Bozic, Slavko Vranes, Aleksandar Rasic and Strahinja Milosevic. Nikola Pekovic had left Partizan in summer 2008, Novica Velickovic, Uros Tripkovic and Milenko Tepic followed a year after. This roster was lacking the elite class talent that had brought them to the quarter finals in past years. With the exception of Jan Vesely.
Vesely has been far from the only reason for Partizan’s historical success this season, but he’s one of the pieces of the puzzle. The Czech forward had generated high expectations via a remarkable Euroleague rookie season as a 18-year-old, where he averaged almost five points and more than three rebounds per game while displaying incredible energy and activity whenever he entered the basketball court, but even more importantly, a very unusual combination of size, speed, explosiveness and athleticism. Partizan coaching legend Dusko Vujosevic was wise enough to develop Vesely as a small forward, despite his size of 2.11m/6’11ft. With the departure of star players, he was expected to step into a larger role on this hard-working but limited roster, while increasing productivity compared to last season.
Out of my way: Vesely has had his fair share of highlight-reel dunks this season
However, Vesely didn’t show much improvement in the early going, averaging a little more than 6 points and 3 assists in the Euroleague up until mid-December, basically showing us what we had seen from him all of last season. Then came the big games, and the Czech forward’s game rose to the occasion: Vesely has played his best games this Euroleague season versus elite opposition: On the last day of the regular season, he had 11 and 7 against Olympiacos while limiting his matchup Josh Childress to 10 points on 3 for 10 shooting, 3 rebounds and 3 turnovers. For the start of Top16, Vesely virtually exploded in two surprising Partizan wins, first contributing 13 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals in a road victory over Panathinaikos before dropping 13 and 15 rebounds on Barcelona in the Catalonians’ first Euroleague defeat of the season. Vesely proceeded to average 9.5 points and 6 rebounds over the course of Top16 and the quarter final series versus Maccabi Tel Aviv. Today, he’s probably the second most talked about youngster – we cannot ignore Ricky Rubio – in the European game and most likely a 2010 lottery pick in the NBA Draft: Draftexpress lists him at number ten in their latest Mock Draft.
PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES & CHARACTER
A 2.11m/6’11ft small forward, rail-thin at this point – the club lists him at 109kg (240lb), but I’d like to question that – , and incredibly mobile for a guy this size. A leaper, head over rim level on some of his dunks, incredibly quick in the open court. Outruns smaller players. Wide wingspan.
Character-wise, I am only hearing positive reactions. And you don’t need to be a team insider to see that this guy is relentless and tough, a no-nonsense type of player who dives after loose balls and plays the game with incredible determination and focus.
Within the Partizan offense, Vesely is a pure role player at this point. Run by playmakers Bo McCalebb and Aleksandar Rasic, Partizan is looking for Aleksandar Maric in the post frequently, as well as attempting to free shooters Bozic, Kecman and Rasic and generating the offense via the pick and roll. It is not Vesely’s role to create, however they have been looking for him more and more as a lowpost option as the season is progressing, most evidently in Athens for Game 1 of Euroleague Top16, when Vesely provided a huge boost with his post presence, drawing fouls and basically creating a huge mismatch on former Partizan player Milenko Tepic. His postgame is not by any means polished yet, but there are signs that hard work is already paying off, and his length can provide huge difficulties in this league where many teams are forced to go with a swingman type of player on the small forward spot, usually giving up plenty of size when matching up with Partizan.
|PER INDIVIDUAL POSSESSION|
There is a lot of room for improvement in Vesely’s faceup game. Shooting the basketball,, he is 12 of 27 in the Euroleague and 11 of 36 in the Adriatic League this season from beyond the arc, a combined 23 of 63 (36.5 percent) in both competitions. Being aware of his weaknesses, Vesely is shooting only when he has to, and while the 36.5-clip is already a vast improvement over last season’s 11.5 percent (3 of 26 in both Euroleague and Adriatic League combined), the jumpshot is not a dangerous weapon quite yet, in particular when firing off the dribble: 10 of his 12 successful Euroleague three pointers this season (83.3 percent) were created by an assist.
|ASSISTED FIELD GOALS|
Despite his decent ballhandling and the ability to go for the crossover and drive to the basket, scenes when Vesely penetrated off the dribble have been pretty rare this season. He showed glimpses, but clearly maximising efficiency is the key in the Euroleague for Vujosevic, and a Vesely one-on-one isn’t the top option on this roster. It’s no secret that this is a key area for a small forward in the NBA game, and I’m pretty positive on his potential in this aspect. Physical tools and ballhandling are clearly there, polished allround-abilities off the dribble, not yet.
However, Vesely is terriffic in terms of moving without the ball, cutting hard and with perfect timing, as well as running the floor with incredible pace and aggressiveness in transition. The open court is where he’s one of the most dangerous players in the whole league, often outrunning smaller players and finishing with authority for one of those Tom Chambers-esque slams. He’s also seen pushing the ball himself in transition, either creating an open shot for one of his teammates by doing so, or going all the way himself. On a pretty average-paced Euroleague team (at 70.47 possessions per 40 minutes), he is already providing valuable fastbreak baskets, possibly making him a great fit with the NBA, where the average club is playing at a pace of more than 79 possessions per 40 minutes.
A player’s size advantage on offense could become a disadvantage on defense when dealing with much smaller and quicker players, but Vesely does a very solid job. He’s been doing extremely well in matchups with some of the better small forwards in this league, e.g. Josh Childress and Pete Mickeal, while helping limit his matchups Alan Anderson (more of a shooting guard) and Chuck Eidson (a point forward) to a combined 21 of 78 from the field in four games in a highly intriguing quarter final series recently.
While he’s been able to manage these situations a fair number of times, he still gets beaten sometimes in one-on-one isolation situations by the quicker and smaller opponent, and usually cannot help but to foul, committing 4.3 of those per game in the running Euroleague season, with clumsiness and overaggressiveness being additional factors. Still, his long arms, great determination and activity level make him a quite capable defender both on and off the ball, and with more experience and more polished defensive skills, reaching the level of a Andrei Kirilenko would still be a long way to go, but not completely out of question.
|FLOOR TIME STATS|
|ON COURT||OFF COURT||DIFF|
|POINTS FOR PER 70 POSSESSIONS||72,54||71,36||1,18|
|POINTS AGAINST PER 70 POSSESSIONS||72,29||76,59||-4,30|
Oncourt/offcourt-statistics (at an admittedly small sample size) indicate that Partizan is a better defensive team with Vesely on the floor, conceding 72.29 points per 70 possessions, while giving up 76.59 per 70 (a margin of 4.3 points per 70) without him.
4.6 rebounds per game sounds fairly weak for 2.11m guy, but the advanced numbers tell a different story. It is a well-known phenomenon in European basketball, which is played at a slower pace and where most rotation players log no more than around 20 minutes a game. While he is not the elite rebounder on his position in the league, Vesely is Top10 in both defensive and offensive rebound percentage, grabbing an estimate of 9.31 in offensive rebound percentage and 16.22 on the defensive end, as good as fourth and eighth respectively among all small forwards that have played 150 minutes minimum this Euroleague season.
With the Czech forward going after every missed shot, determination is clearly not a problem. Defensive rebounding percentage could be higher, but Vesely’s tendency to get out on the break in a hurry probably plays a part here. Adding muscle will help improve his stability on the boxout. How playing on the best offensive rebounding team in the Euroleague – not only this season, but over the last three seasons – influences the rebounding stats is debatable.
Vesely had 13 points and 15 rebounds in this thrilling overtime victory over Regal FC Barcelona, displaying a nifty postmove as well as his ability to run the floor, plus a fairly decent defensive game versus Barcelona’s Pete Mickeal, who is one the league’s most effective players but shot just 5 for 18 in both games against Vesely’s Partizan. Clearly one of Vesely’s two most spectacular games of the season.
Vesely is still in the middle of five-year-contract that doesn’t expire before 2013. However, as Draftexpress writes, there is a NBA opt out in his contract for the upcoming summer.
There are still some question marks about whether or not he’ll be able to come over to the NBA right away, due to the fact that he has a prohibitive buyout clause in his contract for this summer, which fluctuates depending on where he gets picked.
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