“In getting to know him over the last couple of weeks that he has been here and just seeing him in the limited practice time we’ve had, he has a good feel for the game in terms of his basketball IQ.”

Brian Shaw

Since arriving at the trade deadline from Washington on an expiring contract, Jan Vesely has been looking to play his way into an NBA contract for next season. During this time there has been a skill on display for the Nuggets that Vesely performs at an elite NBA level on the defensive end: stealing the ball.

  • Per 48mins Jan ranks 5th in the NBA in steals and is the highest ranked PF or C in steal rate in the NBA in his 47 games played this season (players with minimum of 10 steals).

Jan is able to achieve this high rate of steals through a combination of excellent positioning and the use of his length, quickness, and jumping ability. While many players get most of their steals in one-on-one situations, Jan is able to create steals in a variety of ways often using his abilities to tip a ball and turn it into a steal. In addition his disruptive defensive play often results in other positives such as deflections and blocked shots.

Positioning on Defense

Despite being only 23 years old, Jan has a very good understanding of balancing defending his man with help responsibilities. This gives him the ability to roam into spots when his man is off the ball and that allows him to monitor his man and also: react and move into the passing lanes, to help on a player, or to rotate back to his man depending on what the offense does. The following plays demonstrate this ability.

Play 1. Vesely defending up high
As the play begins the Kings swing the ball to the far side of the court. As JJ Hickson is fronting DeMarcus Cousins to prevent the entry pass, Jan rotates across the paint to be in position to block the path to the hoop if Cousins gets the ball. As Sacramento rotate the ball back across to the near side Vesely rotates back to his man Quincy Acy. Isaiah Thomas telegraphs a pass to Acy and Vesely uses his speed and length to move into the passing lane and tip the pass ahead to himself getting the steal and finishing with a fast break dunk.

Play 2. Vesely defending from the weakside
Here Jan again demonstrates a good feel for help defense. He begins matched up on his man under the hoop as the Blazers run a pick and roll at the 3 point line. As the roll man receives the ball Vesely moves up into the paint and challenges the drive using his length and the ball is knocked away. Portland recovers and resets and Vesely picks up his man out at the 3 point line. The ball rotates to the far side of the court and Vesely moves down to be able to offer help defense if needed while still tracking his man. The Blazers run a side pick and roll and the roll man gets under his defender (Quincy Miller). Jan rotates across to stop the open roller and is able to steal the attempted lob pass to him and pass off to Randy Foye.

Pick and Roll Defense

Jan is also able to use his length when defending the pick and roll. This allows him to perform a soft hedge to block both the driving lane and the passing lane to the roll man as the clips below demonstrate.

Play 1. Pick and Roll
The Lakers run a pick and roll to the middle of the court. Vesely prevents the drive of Jordan Farmar as he turns the corner around the pick. Farmar attempts to pass to Pau Gasol on the roll but Vesely uses his quick hops and wingspan to bat the ball into the air. Kenneth Faried is then able to secure the ball before being fouled by Farmar.

Play 2. Pick and Roll
Washington runs a pick and pop with a second (under) screen. Vesely covers John Wall as he comes off the first screen. Jan is then screened himself by the second Washington big man. Wall sees his driving lane is now covered by Darrell Arthur so he trys to pass back across to the pop man in the middle of the floor. However Jan has kept his eyes on Wall despite the screen and uses his length to tip the pass allowing him to recover for a steal and a breakaway dunk.

The Future

With an expiring contract at the end of the season and a limited offensive game, whether Vesely will appear in a Nuggets uniform next season remains unclear. However Jan has recently shown more comfort on the offense end with the Denver players, especially in finishing lobs and on pick and rolls close to the hoop. And having demonstrated high basketball IQ and unique stealing skills for a young big man (23yrs) on the defensive end, Jan is making an interesting case for the Nuggets to re-sign him going forward.