Generally speaking, for a professional athlete to be compared to a flamingo is a bad thing.
Certainly that was true earlier in the year when, in a discussion of Antawn Jamison”s defensive prowess, a veteran NBA assistant said his problems on that side of the floor weren”t a matter of effort, but physiology. Jamison, like the pink, shrimp-eating waterfowl, has skinny legs, a high ass (insofar as flamingos have asses) and tends to bend too much at the waist. I suspect in the grand pickup games of the wild, flamingos can”t guard, either, no matter how hard they try.
Getting upset about Jamison”s defense is a little like complaining snow is cold. Of course it is. What you hope is for enough upside (coating the side of a great sledding hill, adding buttery powder to your favorite mountain run, etc.) to counter the negatives (digging out the car, cold, slush, etc.). In Jamison”s case, the counterweight is scoring off the bench. It”s why he was brought to Los Angeles this summer, in the hopes of juicing what was the NBA”s least productive crew of reserves last season.
For a while, save a few outbursts here and there — most notably a 33-point effort against Denver on Nov. 30 — Jamison wasn”t putting up enough points to overcome defensive shortcomings and keep him on the floor. So he wasn”t. Over 10 games between December 14 and January 6, Jamison, who before this season had never averaged fewer than the 22.5 minutes a night he played as a rookie in Golden State back in “98-”99, played a grand total of 26.
After a fifth straight DNP-CD, Jamison, long considered one of the better locker room guys in the league, popped off. He would later apologize for making himself a distraction, but the relationship between Jamison and Mike D”Antoni was tense. Like a lot of things, it has improved since that air-clearing January team meeting in Memphis.
“Me and him talked,” Jamison says of D”Antoni. “It was tough at first, but now we have a relationship where if I see something, I can talk to him. He has no problem coming to me like, “Look, your minutes might go down in this game,” or “I”m going to try something new.” That”s what I”ve been accustomed to.”
Since making is way back into the rotation, Jamison has looked much more like the guy management expected. In January, he shot nearly 50 percent from the floor, and in 13 February games averaged 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 48.5 percent shooting, including 43.2 percent from downtown. Despite his defensive shortcomings, Jamison is boosting the bench, and D”Antoni is frequently keeping him on the floor late in games, with good cause. A lineup of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Metta World Peace and Jamison has,
Early in the season, Jamison was deployed primarily as a spot-up shooter, something he can do, but isn”t ideally tailored to his skill set. Now, he”s being put in a wider variety of situations with far better results.
One big reason is Jamison”s ability to move away from the ball. According to Synergy, Thursday against Minnesota Jamison was part of 14 plays, only two of which were in isolation. The rest came on pick-and-rolls, as a cutter, or on the offensive glass. To say the least, this reflects season long trends. Only 1.1 percent of his possessions all year have come in isolation. Meanwhile, 369 of his 448 plays on the season have come on spot ups, cuts, roll situations, offensive rebounds, and in transition. He”s been particularly effective rolling off screens, averaging 1.392 points per possession, 6th best in the NBA.
No wonder Mike D”Antoni seems to love him so much, now.
“He understands spacing, he understands when to cut,” D”Antoni said Thursday. “He”s the type of basketball player that I love. I think the way he plays is easy to play with because you know what he”s doing. He cuts in at the right time. He slips picks and does a lot of things that makes a smart basketball player on the floor.”
Kobe clearly is happy to have him around. ”He”s like a little cockroach,” Bryant cracked after the Minnesota game. “He just keeps finding cracks.”
“He has great timing, and his ability to read the defense. But I think it”s timing more than anything, though. A guy turns his head, and he”s gone. He plays extremely, extremely well off of me. I know as soon as I get loaded up against a double team, I know I can always find him somewhere,” he continued.
Jamison is particularly adept at slipping screens (illustrated well here by Darius Soriano at Forum Blue and Gold). “If his man is going to be aggressive and go to trap, or go with a hard show, (Jamison) can automatically just get out quickly. For some bigs, it”s hard to read that, because they have to see over their shoulder, or knowing already what they”re doing,” Steve Blake said. “If his man is showing hard, he doesn”t really have to set the screen. He”s already done his job. If he gets out of there quick enough, the help side can”t get there. He”s good at reading that, what his man is going to be doing in the pick and roll.”
Staying mobile is common sense, Jamison said.
“It”s so easy for me because, think about it. You”ve got Kobe with the ball, you”ve got Nash with the ball — these are guys they”ve got to pay attention to. You think about the guys that are guarding me, they”re looking (at the stars). I”ve seen so many schemes and so forth, so their head turns and I just find (space),” he said. ”With Nash and Kobe, they look for you. Any time I see a head that”s not paying attention to where I”m at, I just find a way to sneak in there. The ball”s coming right to me. I don”t have to do nothing but catch it and go right up, and that suits me well. That”s what I normally do.”
Jamison touches on the other important part of his effectiveness as a scorer. He”s not the fastest, or the highest leaper, but gets the job done first because he can score with a great array of scoops, flips, hooks, and floaters delivered from nearly every angle, and second because the ball isn”t in his hands very long once he gets it.
“There was some stat in college. We played Duke and I had 36, 38 points, but had the ball actually in my hands for like 58 seconds or something,” he says.
Jamison then smiles and shrugs. “I can only go right, but once I go right, I might put it down.”
The knocks on Jamison are well known, and generally accurate. He”s scored a lot of points for teams that have generally been ordinary-to-bad, and meanwhile has given up about as many at the other end. On the other hand, the guy has stuck around the league for 14-plus seasons, long enough to play against Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, John Starks, David Robinson, Scottie Pippen, and with Shaq, Kobe, and LeBron James. (“I”ve got some stories to tell my kids when they grow up,” he says.) Among active players, Jamison ranks 17th in games, eighth in field goals, 10th in total rebounds, and ninth in points. He has a career PER of 18.25. Plus, he”s a heck of a nice guy who left money on the table to try and win a title with the Lakers.
Regardless of how this season turns out for the Lakers, it”s good to see Jamison show some the skills the Lakers hoped to see when signing him, that have allowed him to be an effective NBA player for as long as he has.
Watching him suck wasn”t fun for him or us.
“It didn”t start the way that I wanted to, but it”s still not over,” Jamison says of this season. ” You never know.”