- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2005

You see Juan Dixon, and you see what he is not.

He is neither tall nor ripped with muscle. He is too lacking in vision and ball-handling skill to be an assist-making point guard and too slight to defend the Larry Hughes-like guards of the NBA. He meets too few of the NBA’s backcourt prerequisites, though a guard he is.

It always has been so with Dixon, going back to his hardscrabble days in Baltimore. He always has been left to bang against the door of the game’s conventions. Permission to enter only has come after he has shown that persistence trumps his liabilities.

Dixon plays with a spirit and determination borne of the skepticism in his midst. He is determined to win over those who doubt him. He also is determined to win a new contract with the Wizards and mock with his play the numbers-based decision that left him unprotected in the expansion draft last summer.

He is forever the scrappy street fighter who sticks his nose in your face and implores you to take your best shot. He might as well play with the battery on his shoulder that Robert Conrad once made famous.

This is the dimension of Dixon that is celebrated by those who go back with him to his national championship season at the University of Maryland. They embrace his indefatigable manner and often shout it on Scott Jackson’s postgame radio show.

To his most ardent supporters, Dixon is the elixir that solves all ailments. He is the answer to the indomitable question that haunts a coach and a city after a loss. In those moments, Dixon is part parody, if only because the call-in radio voices of the night almost argue his capacity to lead the Wizards to an 82-0 season.

It is the wearying proposition that ignores the All-Star seasons of Gilbert Arenas and Hughes and the element of vulnerability that goes with the three-guard set. Coach Eddie Jordan accepted the vulnerability out of necessity against the Suns, mostly because Dixon was the only player with a shooting rhythm.

Dixon led the Wizards to victory, as he had done the previous night against the Bucks, hitting big shot after big shot. This is his basketball destiny, though subject to change following the news that Hughes will be sidelined four-to-six weeks because of a fractured right thumb.

Dixon has evolved into the team’s designated shooter off the bench, the Vinnie Johnson of Fun Street.

Dixon enters a game with an itchy shooting finger and a well-greased elbow, set against the cold eyes of an assassin. His is an all-or-nothing prescription that must be administered in precise doses because it goes against the essence of the offense. Dixon is hardly an equal-opportunity playmaker. He either has the shooting touch in a given game or does not.

As the irrepressible Dave Feldman of WTTG points out, Dixon often establishes a 77-point scoring pace in his first few minutes. The corollary to that is an equal number of shot attempts, which is not healthy for team dynamics.

It is a delicacy that cuts a lot of different ways in the course of an 82-game season, dependent on the opposition, the flow of a game and which Dixon is in the house.

Like all shooters, Dixon lives in dread of a self-induced arctic blast. It is the cold front that inevitably blankets all shooters at one time or another. In Dixon’s case, it is the cause of the occasional DNP, coach’s decision, affixed to his name in the box score.

In his third season in the NBA, Dixon is showing a greater comfort with what he must be. He came into the season with a worrisome .387 shooting percentage. Yet he is taking measures to polish that statistic, as reflected in his .439 shooting percentage this season.

Dixon remains a starter in his heart who is sometimes left to speak in the code of a backup obsessed with receiving consistent minutes. It is an obsession certain to abate in the absence of Hughes.

As always, the pugnacious Dixon is striving to be at one with the system, either as a gunslinger who comes off the bench or one entrusted to fill the void of Hughes.

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