Get Familiar With Kevin Seraphin Now, Or Be Forced To Do So In The Near Future

First of all, Who is Kevin Seraphin?  Where did he come from?  Both are legitimate questions, as he’s only played sparingly for a Washington Wizards team that’s gone 37-103 since his arrival.  Although Seraphin, a native of French Guiana (South America, borders with Brazil), has been a Wizard for the duration of his young NBA career, he was actually handed a Chicago Bulls cap upon being selected 17th overall, between Luke Babbitt and Eric Bledsoe, in June of 2010.  Content with their rotation at the center position and looking to clear cap space (remember, this was the summer of 2010), the Bulls quickly dealt Seraphin, along with Kirk Hinrich, to Washington in exchange for a second-round pick.  At the time, Hinrich was owed about $17 million over two years.  While Hinrich had been a quality role player known for his scrappy defense and outside shooting, his services were probably a tad overpriced at $8.5 million a season.  Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld, in search of some interior toughness, elected to bite the bullet with Hinrich for a shot at Seraphin.

“We’ve been a predominantly perimeter oriented team and a finesse team and I just felt like we needed some more physicality,” Said Grunfeld.

It was a move that was met with a fair bit of skepticism.  The 20-year-old Seraphin could hardly speak English, had only begun to play the game in his mid teens, and had a knee issue that would keep him from participating in summer league.  He was taken as something of a project, and projects haven’t always been known to work out.  Wizards fans were understandably leery.

Grunfeld was confident that the Seraphin project would be a successful one, though.  He’d sent a couple of executives to Italy to watch Seraphin play for his French team, Cholet Basket, and they came away impressed.  As reported by The Washington Post

Seraphin, 20, has only played organized basketball for five seasons and the Wizards came to know him after seeing him play at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland last season. The Wizards watched him play a few times for Cholet, which won the French championship this season. He is a rugged, physical player, as he explained after he was selected on Thursday. Seraphin needed the assistance of a translator, but tried to explain his playing style in his limited English. He eventually punched his fist into his hand to talk about his toughness.

During the interview with reporters, Seraphin was wearing a Bulls cap, but talking about how excited he was to be in Washington. And from what I hear, he really, really wanted to play for the Wizards. Tommy Sheppard and Milt Newton went to see Seraphin in Treviso, Italy, a few weeks ago and came away impressed. Seraphin came away thinking that the Wizards really wanted him.

Unable to work out because of a minor knee injury, he visited five teams in six days last week, including Washington, Oklahoma City and Cleveland (which I heard was looking to get the 20th pick in order to take him). But I heard that when he visited Washington, Seraphin told Grunfeld, “You have to take me! You have to take me.” From witnesses in the room, Grunfeld apparently smiled and told him he might be able to work something out.

Work something out he did.  However, he’d also worked something out with Javale McGee in 2008.  McGee became Washington’s usual starter late in the ’09/10 season after long-time Wizard Brendan Haywood was dealt to Dallas.  The same ’10/11 season that would be Seraphin’s rookie campaign became McGee’s shot to prove that he could develop into Washington’s big man of the future.  Seraphin took a back seat, appearing in just 58 games and averaging only 11 MPG.  With the progress of John Wall on the minds of most, Seraphin became an afterthought.  He continued to collect bench splinters for the first few months of his second season as McGee became a household name for all of the wrong reasons.

Finally, on trade deadline day, the Wizards decided they’d seen enough of McGee.  He was sent packing in favor of the far-better but much-more-highly-paid Nene.  Another questionable trade executed by Grunfeld, but one in which the Wiz did receive a proven contributor of borderline-all-star caliber.  On first glance the move didn’t seem to benefit Kevin Seraphin in any way.  McGee had worn out his welcome and would become a free agent at the end of the season… Nene is a proven veteran secured for the next four seasons.  If Seraphin’s opportunity had been just over the horizon prior to the trade, it seemed that it was now out of sight.

Sometimes opportunities present themselves at the most unexpected of times.  In order for a trade to be completed all involved players are required to pass physicals.  Take cross-country travel and other potential hold ups into account and you’ve got what can turn out to be an extensive finalization process.  In the case of this particular deal approval took four days, which, thanks to the lockout, was three games.  Seraphin became the interim starter.  Few thought much of his temporary role, but the 22-year-old was aware of its potential significance.

“I was waiting for this moment. Not the trade. I was waiting for them to give me an opportunity to play,” said Seraphin, via The Washington Post.  “I played well this summer, so I was just waiting for them to give me my opportunity. I was waiting.”

Now you know who Kevin Seraphin is, and where he came from.  It’s time to talk about what he’s done since since the 15th of March.

Seraphin got the first of his three consecutive starts against Chris Kaman and the New Orleans Hornets.  By the end of the first quarter he’d already scored 6 points–a tally he’d only reached 19 times in 90 previous appearances.  He finished with 12, as well 9 rebounds and a couple of blocks.  He gave up 20 and 7 to Kaman, but he’d made jump hooks with both hands while nearly contributing a double-double to a winning effort.  It was a solid performance in which the young big man displayed comfort and confidence.  He’d get his double-double three nights later as he posted 12 and 12 against All-Star Marc Gasol.  Although Nene finally arrived and Seraphin was sent back to the bench, he played well enough to remain part of the regular rotation.

It didn’t take long for Seraphin to end up back in the starting lineup.  In late March he found himself filling in for Trevor Booker at power forward, twice more scoring in double figures.  On April 1st he made his way back to the center spot.  Nene had developed plantar fasciitis, a lingering foot injury that tends to keep players on the shelf for extended periods of time.  With both Nene and Booker missing games Seraphin would not only be asked to fill in, but to step his game up.  Step it up he has.  Since that April 1st contest in Toronto, during which he set what was then his career high with 16 points, Seraphin has averaged 16 and 8, as well as a block per game.

These past few weeks have made up the best seven-game stretch of Kevin Seraphin’s basketball career.  On Tuesday night the impressive run culminated in a 24-point, 13-rebound performance put on in a win over Orlando.  No, Dwight Howard didn’t play… but the Magic are an experienced team of veterans with the wide-bodied Big Baby Davis filling in at the five.  Davis, who was coming off of a 16-point, 16-rebound double-double of his own, could do nothing with the 280-pound Seraphin.  After blowing his first look–an uncontested layup that should’ve been his easiest two of the night–young Kevin showed his touch, scoring with each hand on both blocks.  He demonstrated his strength as he ripped rebounds, proved to be a defensive presence by swatting four shots, and displayed an understanding of the game that’s beyond his years as he found a cutting John Wall and timed the pass perfectly.  As if all that wasn’t enough, he threw in a catch-and-shoot jumper from 15 feet that looked smooth as butter.  Commentator Phil Chenier couldn’t help but ooh and aah as Seraphin displayed a remarkable amount of polish for any young player, let alone one who first picked up a basketball only six or seven years ago.  Stan Van Gundy tried to downplay the performance, stating that his team’s decision to focus on Washington’s guards led to the career night, but I’m not buying that.  Was Seraphin double teamed?  No… but he wasn’t just pounding dunk after dunk off of spoon feeds from John Wall.  He repeatedly–I want to emphasize repeatedly–showed outstanding patience on the block as he backed defenders down and deposited hook shots.  A lack of defensive attention didn’t take the basketball and shoot it into the hoop 11 different times.  Kevin Seraphin did that.

Whether or not Nene will return this season is unclear.  The Wizards only have eight games left, and they’re playing for ping pong balls at this point.  Nene may very well be shut down, leaving the door wide open for Seraphin to continue to build on his eye-opening month of basketball.  Even if Nene does return I expect the Wizards to put him at power forward, a position he played a lot of throughout his years in Denver, next to the revelation that has been Kevin Seraphin.  As a matter of fact, I figure these two will make up Washington’s starting frontcourt for years to come.  At 6’9″, Seraphin could be taller… but he’s got the frame of both body and mind to be five man in the league.  He came into the NBA doing the best he could with his limited English to emphasize a desire and ability to bang… he simply forgot to mention that he’s capable of doing so much more.

It’s all good.  We’re learning the hard way.

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