Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| December 11, 2006
"Every day is an opportunity disguised as a challenge."
When Seattle SuperSonics swingman Damien Wilkins heard that he would be starting in place of an injured Ray Allen last Tuesday against the Atlanta Hawks, he needed turn only to his locker for motivation. The quote Wilkins has taped in his locker served as a reminder that adversity creates opportunity. Wilkins and teammate Earl Watson have taken full advantage over the last three games, playing key roles as the Sonics have gone 3-0 without Allen.
"Damien and Earl are both playing really well. They’re a big, big part of what we do."
Two weeks ago, Watson and Wilkins were the story. Then, it was because of their frustration over their roles on the Sonics and slow starts to the season. Six games later, the situation has almost entirely reversed itself.
On Sunday, Watson and Wilkins were two of four Sonics players to score 20 or more points as the Sonics came from behind to defeat the Golden State Warriors for their fourth straight win at KeyArena. Watson's 20 points and Wilkins' 22 were both season highs, as were Wilkins' nine rebounds.
"Damien and Earl are both playing really well," Sonics Coach Bob Hill said afterwards. "They’re a big, big part of what we do."
For Wilkins, opportunity was key. In 22 career starts, he's averaged 13.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists on 46.8% shooting. As a reserve, his primary role, Wilkins has averaged 5.2 points, 1.9 rebounds and 0.9 assists, shooting 42.8% from the field.
Asked whether he plays better as a starter, Wilkins said, "That's what it seems like statistically, so I would have to say probably yes. But my opportunity to be a starter in this league isn't going to be any time soon as long as I have two guys I think are future Hall of Famers in front of me. I can only just continue to work hard and learn from those guys."
That's not all Wilkins can do. He can also continue to play well when he does get the opportunity to start.
Watson hasn't entirely shaken his early-season shooting slump. Over the last three games, he has missed all eight of his 3-point attempts. Still, Watson has averaged 15.7 points and 5.0 assists by being aggressive in transition and taking the ball to the basket when defenders close out on him on the perimeter. Watson's seven free-throw attempts Sunday were the most he's had since being traded to the Sonics last February.
While the scoring is nice - Watson's 47 points matched what he had totaled in the previous 10 Sonics games - Watson's energy is more important. Hill called his performance in Friday's win over the Hornets Watson's best game in a Sonics uniform, as the point guard handed out seven assists and had five steals in addition to his 17 points.
Plus-minus tells the story of Watson's turnaround. Two weeks ago, Watson's net plus-minus rating, -10.0, was the worst on the team - indicating the Sonics played much worse when Watson was on the floor. Over the last three games, however, the Sonics are +40 when Watson has been on the floor and have been outscored by three points when he has been on the bench.
"We know Earl is a good player and I think tonight he broke out of it a little bit," forward Rashard Lewis said on Friday. "Hopefully he can continue to play well for us off the bench."