Wizards power forward Kevin Seraphin has said it many times, that he aspires to be just like Brazilian teammate Nene.
It is not uncommon to see Seraphin, 23, following the 30-year-old veteran around the Wizards locker room like a 275-pound puppy, seeking his advice and, perhaps more importantly, his approval.
Wednesday night was one of those occasions. The Wizards had just lost their eighth straight game, an 87-84 defeat to the Cavaliers, and Seraphin was hardly noticeable with four points and no rebounds in 12 minutes. The third-year forward rolled his chair over to talk with the 11-year NBA veteran and got an earful.
“He was really mad at me,” Seraphin said. “He’s like the leader right now. He’s trying to help the team the best way and he really thinks I’m an important player for this team and I’ve been struggling for like the last five games and he told me that.
“He told me straight up, ‘You should play more than 12 minutes.’ I’m supposed to be ready for the game. I’m supposed to play good. He said, ‘Maybe if you were playing good, maybe we got more chances to win the game.’ That’s what he told me, he was just like, he was mad.”
Nene is not alone in his evaluation of Seraphin. Since reaching double figures in scoring in six straight games in late November and early December, Seraphin has recorded less than 10 points in seven of his last nine games. And on Wednesday he failed to grab a rebound for just the second time this season.
Seraphin’s drop in production has become pronounced because of the limited minutes Nene has played this season. The Brazilian big man has been limited to between 20 and 26 minutes a night, but has been a force on the floor with the Wizards outscoring their opponents by 65 points when he’s on the floor this season.
When Nene has come out of the lineup Seraphin has not provided the offensive and defensive presence that a 6-foot-9, 275-pound forward should. In his 25 games this season the Wizards have been outscored by 171 points with Seraphin on the floor.
“I can't play [Nene] like I normally would play a guy like him,” Wittman said, “so we’ve got to have other guys make up for that and be a positive on the floor.”
Over the summer, Seraphin worked on his right- and left-handed fade-away hook shots, but Wittman said that has led to a lack of aggressiveness under the basket and fewer trips to the foul line.
“With a body like that and his quickness and strength,” Wittman said, “I mean, Nene’s played I think 400 less minutes and has taken a million more free throws than him.”
For the record, Nene has played 293 fewer minutes than Seraphin, but has gone to the line 87 times this season, compared to Seraphin’s 19 trips.
“Kevin right now is just content with avoiding contact and we’re trying to teach him, especially in a crowd, to pump fake, pump fake, and get a guy in the air and try to score,” Wittman said. “If not, you get two free throws. It’s a work in progress.”
Wittman said young forwards often try to find ways to not get their shots blocked and in the process diminish their effectiveness in the paint.
“You don’t want to take that success [away from the basket] away from him, his jump hook, his ability to shoot a jump shot,” Wittman said. “But he’s got to also understand in the paint that you don’t want to avoid contact to get a shot up. That’s what he does sometimes. A lot of kids [wonder] ‘Am I gonna get my shot blocked?’ I tell them all the time, ‘Everybody’s gotten their shot blocked. You can’t worry about getting your shot blocked.”
Seraphin said he had a meeting with Wittman a few days ago and tried to convince him that he can shoot 15-foot jumpers.
“I tell him, my game has changed, because I can shoot now,” Seraphin said. “That’s true. I don’t go [to the line]. Before I used to go to the basket harder, but you have to come back.”
Seraphin admits the constant losing has sapped him of some of his enthusiasm. He said he hardly celebrated his 23rd birthday earlier this month simply because he finds it hard to find joy during such a season in which he is expected to provide so much but has delivered so little.
“Right now, I’m really part of the team,” he said. “Coach calls plays for me. I really feel like one of the players on the team, so that affects me for sure. All of the guys, they look at me, they expect something of me every game. That affects me.
“It’s tough to lose. Now you have to keep your head up. You have to keep going. That’s what I try to do.”
At the end of practice on Thursday Wittman sat down in the stands for a long chat with Nene, who last weekend told NBA.com that some of his teammates have no respect for the game.