- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2008

When Juan Dixon returned to the District in September, he said he was a different player from the undersized shooting guard who spent his first three NBA seasons with Washington.

Three rocky seasons - he first signed with Portland, got traded to Toronto and then dealt to Detroit - improved Dixon’s appreciation for playing close to his native Baltimore. More importantly, lessons learned in that time helped the former Maryland star grow into a more complete player.

Just two days before training camp, the Wizards signed Dixon, hoping he could provide a veteran presence and scoring off the bench. Through seven games, Dixon has given the Wizards more than they expected. When the starters struggled in the first few games, Dixon came off the bench and made rally-igniting baskets. He also got the offense rolling by running the point efficiently.

Against New York on Nov. 7 in what was then his most extensive time at point guard, Dixon replaced a struggling Antonio Daniels and finished with 11 assists and eight rebounds, both career highs. Through Friday’s loss at Miami, he has directed three rallies from double-digit deficits while averaging 5.7 points and 3.7 assists in 18.9 minutes.

“I like what Juan has given us,” coach Eddie Jordan said. “It’s amazing that he’s a guy that was out there until late in the summer before training camp, and he does a lot of things for us. I’m pleasantly surprised he can run the point position a little bit more than we thought he could.”

With Daniels out of the lineup two of the past three games with a sore right knee, Jordan tabbed Dixon as a starter. Dixon’s statistics, however, indicate he is better suited to come off the bench. In two starts, he averaged 3.0 points and 3.0 assists in 23 minutes, but he has Jordan’s confidence.

“He talks. He gets us into our defense and keeps us organized,” Jordan said. “He’s a very smart player. He’s going to be a very good coach one day.”

Jordan has seen other changes in the seven-year veteran.

“He’s more under control. He’s more mature. He’s smarter as an NBA player,” Jordan said. “He’s not looking to make a name for himself but [is] helping his teammates get better - and that’s a great thing.”

Dixon credits much of his growth to lessons learned under Portland coach Nate McMillan and Toronto’s Sam Mitchell. Since he was no longer being asked to be the top scoring option, he was required to improve in other areas.

So Dixon focused on becoming a sponge.

“When I was in Toronto, Sam Mitchell’s offense really ran through the point guard, and I’d like to thank him for the opportunity for giving me the chance to play,” Dixon said. “I didn’t play as well as I had wanted, but I learned a lot of things. T.J. Ford is a good friend of mine, and I watched him a lot. He’s been playing point guard all his life, so he gave me pointers any chance he got. And watching Jose Calderon helped. Those guys really helped tremendously.

“And I got the chance to play with an NBA-caliber point guard last year in Detroit - and Chauncey [Billups] really helped me. Everything I’ve learned over the last three years, I’ve tried to apply this year.”

When Dixon re-signed with Washington, he agreed to a partially guaranteed, one-year deal. So far, he has made a strong case for being a part of the team’s future.

“I have the opportunity here to show Coach Jordan and his staff that I’m capable of running his team,” he said. “I just have to keep playing with confidence, and hopefully things will continue to work out for the team and for myself.”