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An off-balancing act
Question of the Day
Washington Wizards power forward Antawn Jamison is nowhere near conventional.
True, for the better part of the past decade Jamison - who for his career is averaging 19.7 points and 8.0 rebounds - has ranked among the most consistent players at his position, and he has only gotten better with age. But Jamison is one of the most unorthodox players - not only in the game today but in NBA history.
His defensive game is fairly typical; he routinely pulls down double-digit rebounds and defends counterparts on the blocks. But on offense, Jamison plays with more finesse than most power forwards - only his version of finesse isn't easy to find elsewhere.
Sure, he has the typical catch-and-shoot down pat, as well as the turnaround jumper and occasional layup. But after that, the talented Mr. Jamison breaks out an assortment of baffling circus shots that causes observers to go from "What is he thinking?" to "Oh, wow!" in a split second.
"On a lot of those shots, I always used to ask him if his eyes were open," interim coach Ed Tapscott said about Jamison, who is averaging team highs of 20.8 points and 8.8 rebounds this season. "And he insists they always were, so OK. Antawn Jamison is a very unique player, and I doubt anyone will come along that's quite like him for some time."
Jamison's tricks include a move on which he posts up on the right block, dribbles, spins to his left and cuts across the lane with an awkward-looking skip. Opponents expect him to go up for a hook shot and extend a hand and often jump in anticipation. But Jamison instead does a double clutch and then heaves the ball up like a shot put while falling away, sending it up into the air before it arcs downward into the hoop. Nothing but net.
Other times, he posts up on the opposite block, spins to his right and into the lane. Leaning in toward the hoop, he goes up with the ball in his left hand but switches to his right in midair and scores on a teardrop shot.
Then there's the post-up along the baseline, which includes a fake to the right and a spin to the left along the baseline toward the hoop and ends with Jamison either tossing up an underhanded shot or a teardrop - or hitting a pull-up jumper. Eight out of 10 times, he draws a foul, too.
Other times, he catches the ball along the perimeter, puts the ball on the floor, charges to the basket and goes up for a runner off his left foot, not his right.
He will pull down a rebound, go back up - even though his back is to the basket - initiate contact with a defender and throw up a prayer over his shoulder before getting to the line for a chance at a three-point play.
Or he will get the ball in the paint, take one step forward and lean past his opponent for another scoop shot. He will go up for a left-handed dunk or unleash what resembles a hybrid of a runner and a hook shot, which starts from waist level and arcs over even the longest of arms in the NBA.
The list goes on.
"My favorite shot is the one where he's cutting to the basket and gets a pass from the guard, takes one step and before the big man can react, goes up with a runner that goes up real high and drops in," said Wizards center Brendan Haywood, also Jamison's teammate at North Carolina. "I always say, the worse the Antawn Jamison shot looks, the more likely it is to go in."
Jamison is so unpredictable that it took the Wizards' team photographer a full season to get the timing down on his flip shot so he could capture it in frame.
Two elements always are present, though. The circus shots all are unleashed close to the basket, and all seem to be impossible. Other than that, there are no rules, no proper steps to execution.
They just happen.
"Never seen anybody like him. Never," said one Western Conference scout, who has been involved in the NBA in some capacity the past 38 years. "Maybe there's a little bit of Alex English in him because he would come inside with some different shots. But not even his stuff was as crazy as Jamison's. Jamison's just unique."
The origin of Jamison's skills are somewhat of a mystery; even he can't recall when and how he developed the arsenal. The players that Jamison most admired growing up were Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and David Robinson.
"They were all great, but they were pretty conventional," he said. "I definitely didn't have it in high school and not in college. In college, I developed the quick-release shots. It was just once I got to the NBA... I started with the off-balance shots, the weird flicks. Defenders are tougher, and you're just trying everything you can because it's much harder to get shots off.
"It is the funniest thing to go against somebody and a crazy shot falls and you're running down the court and they say to you, 'You know that was some bull right there.'"
Haywood said Jamison had some of the tricks at UNC, but like his midrange jumper, Jamison has developed them through hard work in the NBA. Although Jamison would like to be able to say he has a carefully cataloged mental inventory, he concedes that he doesn't know how many tricks he has, what he's going to pull out at a given moment or even how it will come out looking.
"I have no idea," he said. "Man, when I'm out there doing that [stuff], it just goes with the flow. It's nothing like, 'Oh, I'm setting up for the 'Twan Spinner or anything like that.' Off the top of the dome, I couldn't even tell you how I do it. I'm just trying to find a way to get the ball in the hoop - just reacting to what they're throwing at me."
Jamison shakes his head and chuckles.
"Yeah, the [stuff] is crazy, but I go with it," he said. "It's like they say, if it's not broke, don't fix it."
About the Author
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