Dixon's star quality on display in Boston summer production

Ex-Maryland star a hit with fans, Wizards as his transition to NBA begins

Dixon quick Boston hit as he gets taste of NBA

July 23, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

BOSTON - Juan Dixon is huge here.

Next to players from the home-team Boston Celtics, Dixon was the hit - in more ways than one - of the six-day Shaw's Summer League session that wrapped up Sunday at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

Riding a wave of popularity from leading Maryland to the NCAA title in April, Dixon was the clear fan favorite, getting the lion's share of applause from the crowds and signing so many autographs for kids that security had to shoo them away.

Dixon's game lived up to the attention, or at least he said so, as he took the first step toward cementing a guard slot with the Washington Wizards.

"I think each game, I'm learning more and more," he said. "I'm just out here trying to have some fun and attack on both ends of the floor. I have a great opportunity to learn from a great group of coaches.

"I'm just out here playing, and they're allowing me to play my game: Be aggressive on the offensive end and take gambles on the defensive end. I'm learning from my mistakes. Overall, I think I've done a great job."

Dixon might not be the most objective of critics, but Brian James, the Wizards' assistant coach who ran the team during the six-games-in-seven-days tournament last week, also gave Dixon an unqualified thumbs-up.

"We love the way Juan's been playing. He shows that he's going to be a real gutsy leader for this team," said James. "The thing we love about him is the areas that we feel he needs to improve on, he just says, `Coach, just show me what you want me to do and we'll get it done.' "

Dixon performed well against the Shaw's field - made up of rookies, young NBA veterans and free-agent invitees - leading the Wizards in scoring with an average of 16.0 during the week, good for fifth in the tournament behind New Jersey's Richard Jefferson (22.0), Milwaukee's Ronald Murray (18.2), Joseph Forte (18.0), who was traded by Boston to Seattle yesterday, and Atlanta's Dion Glover (17.8).

The Wizards, who won three of six games here, wanted to get a look at Dixon's playmaking skills because his slight build (6 feet 3, 170 pounds) will certainly require him to spend some time at point guard, a position he didn't play much at Maryland.

The experiment's results were decidedly mixed. Dixon handed out 21 assists during the week, with a pair of six-assist games in his final three contests, tying him for fifth in the tournament.

However, his high-risk game led to 22 turnovers, a tournament high. Though his passing was crisp, his ball-handling was at times poor, particularly in end-of-quarter isolation situations in which he was required to take his defender off the dribble.

Nonetheless, Dixon proclaimed himself happy with his progress.

"It [the learning process] hasn't been that hard," he said. "It's just making that transition. I knew all along that I could play on this level, that I would be able to contribute. I think the only hard part is trying to pick my spots on the court, in terms of where to score.

"As a point guard, I have different duties. I can't always be Option 1. I'm out here trying to learn and trying to learn from my mistakes."

The Wizards attempted to cushion some of the shock of learning a new position in the NBA by having other players, such as fellow first-round choice Jared Jeffries, a forward, bring the ball up.

"We don't want to tire him out by just throwing him the ball and having him dribble it up against pressure and have him be our sole point guard," said James. "We need to let him rest a little bit, because he's guarding the point guard on defense and he's so worn out.

"That's why we've let Jared Jeffries handle the ball some, and [free agent] Brian Brown, when they play together, handles a little bit. We want him [Dixon] to play some point guard, but we don't want him to play there exclusively."

And the team doesn't intend to let Dixon's ability to score go to waste. Head coach Doug Collins has pointed to Philadelphia's Allen Iverson and the Lakers' Lindsey Hunter, whom Collins coached in Detroit, as examples of smaller guards who aren't exclusively point guards as models for what he wants from Dixon.

"He's a basketball player," Collins said last month. "He doesn't necessarily have to be a point guard. It's my job to figure out how all the pieces fit. I want five basketball players. I want guys who can dribble and pass and all make plays."

Last week was the first chapter, with October's training camp and a long, grueling season ahead, but Dixon appears on his way to being what Collins wants - a complete player.

"I don't want to try to take on so much early," said Dixon. "I want to take it slowly. It's a hard transition, so I need to take my time with it. But I like having the pressure on my back and being able to go out there and show people that I am capable of playing point guard. I think I've done a good job. I've held my own on both ends of the floor."

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