Washington Wizards forward Antawn Jamison is putting together a strong case for making his second consecutive Eastern Conference all-star team, but this season it's been his rebounding prowess rather than his scoring touch that has been most impressive.
Jamison's 20-point, 15-rebound effort in Wednesday's 96-89 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers continued a stretch that has included six consecutive games in which he has scored 10 or more points and grabbed at least 10 rebounds, and three games in which he has snagged 15 or more rebounds.
Jamison, who is averaging 21.1 points and 11.5 rebounds heading into tonight's game against the Milwaukee Bucks at MCI Center, has posted eight games of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. Only Los Angeles Clippers forward Elton Brand, who has nine such games, has had more, and Jamison is one of only five NBA players with three 20-point, 15-rebound games this season.
The biggest key to the surge, according to Jamison, is the strength of his surgically repaired right knee, which limited his mobility and bounce last season when he averaged 19.6 points and 7.6 rebounds.
"A lot of it is my being healthy this year," Jamison said. "Last year, I wasn't able to do a lot of things I wanted to. This year, my emphasis wasn't coming back and trying to just score the ball, it was trying to do the other things. I pretty much challenged myself: Could this be my highest rebounding total I had as a professional?"
Jamison, in his eighth season from the University of North Carolina, is on pace to easily surpass his career high of 8.7 rebounds per game posted as a member of the Golden State Warriors in 2000-2001 and could obliterate his career average of 7.3. And it's not as though Jamison has been facing off against undersized opponents during this recent stretch.
He snagged 16 rebounds against Orlando's Tony Battie and Dwight Howard, 20 in a win over Detroit and its fearsome tandem of Ben and Rasheed Wallace, 12 against Charlotte's Emeka Okafor and Primoz Brezec and 15 against Portland's towering duo of Zach Randolph and Joel Przybilla.
Jamison is generously listed at 6 feet 9, 235 pounds in the media guide and has carried the label of a finesse player. It should come as no surprise that he snags rebounds in the same unorthodox, sneaky manner in which he scores.
Rather than using muscle to pound out position under the glass, Jamison tends to rely on positioning, quickness and guile. For instance, he picked up two third-quarter points Wednesday by slipping in from the perimeter and snagging Jarvis Hayes's miss and then scoring before any Portland player had a chance to react.
"In Detroit, he was getting those rebounds under, and I say under, Rasheed and Ben," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said with a chuckle. "It seemed like he was getting those rebounds and they were over him. It wasn't like he was on top of them, outjumping them to the ball. Those were gutsy rebounds. He was boxing out, fighting and that means a lot to us."
Like Jamison, Jordan says the biggest difference is that Jamison isn't dragging his right leg around, as he appeared to be doing during the playoffs last season.
"He's a lot more healthy this year," Jordan said. "It goes back to what he's been doing his whole career. He's always been a heck of an offensive rebounder, a rebound and put-back guy, and now he's grabbing those defensive rebounds. He knows that's what we need. It's a good thing. He's feeling good about himself -- and the biggest thing compared to last year is he's just healthy."
Jamison's rebounding, particularly on the offensive end, has created a hidden benefit. He typically splits his time defending the other team's small forward and power forward. And because Jamison is aggressively going to the basket, his man has not been able to leak out and fill the wings on the fast break going the other direction.
Jordan is hopeful that Jamison's hunger will spread throughout the team. The Wizards have been outrebounded by an average of nearly four per game and entered last night's games ranked 21st in defensive rebounding. They will certainly need to be sharp tonight against a Milwaukee squad that entered last night's action leading the league in rebounds per game (46.2).
The additions of centers Jamaal Magloire and Andrew Bogut have given the Bucks a pair of big, active bodies to go with a back court that includes a playmaking point guard in T.J. Ford and one of the league's top sharpshooters in Michael Redd.
"There's no reason why we can't be the top rebounding team in the league," Jamison said. "We have the personnel to do it. It's just a matter of that mental thing: Just do it. Rebounding is the one area of the game where you can be selfish."