Getting his time enables Wilkins to prove a point
If given the minutes, Damien Wilkins promised he would be better than anyone believed. He said it last year during a brief public spat with...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle @ Sacramento, 7 p.m., FSN
If given the minutes, Damien Wilkins promised he would be better than anyone believed.
He said it last year during a brief public spat with former coach Bob Hill. The Sonics, at that time, had no room in the starting lineup for the former undrafted free agent because All-Stars Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis occupied the shooting guard and small forward positions.
Other than a locker-room outburst last November, Wilkins never complained. He took the reserve role, his 24 minutes and did what he could. But inside, he knew he could give more than the 8.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists a game he did last season.
"One of the most underrated stats in basketball is minutes," Wilkins said. "With minutes comes confidence."
After a solid training camp and preseason, Wilkins was given the small-forward starting spot by new coach P.J. Carlesimo. Wilkins averages nearly 34 minutes, which is second to rookie Kevin Durant. And with the additional time, he has produced results, and is looking to again tonight when the Sonics take their 0-3 record into Sacramento to meet the 0-3 Kings.
His scoring average (18.3) has significantly increased as have his rebounds (7.0) and assists (4.0).
"Every day, coach is reiterating to me how he wants me to be aggressive," Wilkins said. "He screams at me when I don't take shots. And to me that's kind of new. Last year, I was getting screamed at, or in years past I should say, I was getting screamed at for taking shots. Now he might snatch me out of the game for not taking shots, so that's helping my confidence."
Wilkins, son of former NBA player Gerald Wilkins and nephew of Hall-of-Famer Dominique Wilkins, always has tried to mold his game to someone else's vision. At different times during his college career at North Carolina State and Georgia, it was as if he had a split personality. Some days he played like his father and others like his high-flying uncle.
Former Seattle coach Nate McMillan tried to make Wilkins a defensive stopper when the Sonics signed him in 2004 and the team later rewarded the versatile 6-foot-6 swingman with a five-year, $15 million deal.
The next season, coach Bob Weiss gave him his first start at point guard while subbing for injured Luke Ridnour.
And Hill pushed him to become a slasher who attacked the basket.
"Last year he was trying to find his identity and this year he came in understanding where he wants to play position-wise and what he's capable of doing," said assistant coach Ralph Lewis, the only holdover on the coaching staff. "Initially coming in, it's hard being a rookie trying to work yourself into a rotation, especially when you have All-Star players in front of you. So you just try to do the best you can in the amount of time you can in the game or in the practice and that's what he did.
"He got an opportunity in the  playoffs to really show what he can do and he ended up getting a contract off of that. The last couple years have been really tough for him because he believed he should have been playing a certain amount of minutes in the game and he wasn't getting that. With the new situation here and basically a new lease on life and how hard he's worked in the summer, he's benefiting from that."
Wilkins also seems to be benefiting from shoddy scouting by opponents who are inexplicably leaving him alone in the corner. During the Sonics' 0-3 start, he's connected on 6 of 12 three-pointers.
Wilkins also is attacking the basket and drawing fouls, resulting in a 13-for-15 mark at the free-throw line.
"This is another new role for me to go in and provide offense," he said. "It's not new for me because I know I can do it, but it's new to be dependent upon for offense."
There's no guarantee Wilkins will remain with the Sonics after this season because he can opt out of the final two years of a contract that would pay him $6.4 million.
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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