Not just the Human Highlight Film (cont.)
From June 1982, when the Hawks drafted Wilkins out of the University of Georgia, into February 1994, when they traded him to the Clippers, he helped Atlanta to a 525-426 record. The Hawks went to the playoffs in eight of Wilkins' 11 full seasons with them, averaged 44.6 victories and won 50 or more from 1985-86 through 1988-89 when the Celtics, Sixers, Pistons and eventually the Bulls dominated the East.
Rare in NBA annals, Wilkins scored more than 2,000 points in the season he turned 25 and again as he turned 33, nine years apart. In 1990-91, he averaged 25.9 points and 9.0 rebounds, outboarding teammates Kevin Willis and Moses Malone. In 1994-95, he averaged 31.5 minutes, 17.8 points and 5.2 rebounds at age 35, helping Boston back to the playoffs in his only season there. After a year in Greece, Wilkins averaged 18.1 points and 6.2 rebounds in 30.9 minutes for San Antonio, slogging through the 20-62 season that set up the Spurs to draft Tim Duncan. Then he was off to Italy for a season, before wrapping up in the post-lockout 1999 season with 27 appearances for Orlando.
"I always felt that Dominique could really, really score the ball," former Celtics great and current Timberwolves coach Kevin McHale said. "Just a dynamic player. He was a handful to guard. Tough matchup. He shot a lot of jump shots. He had that baseline spin shot. He had that floater. He could get the ball in the hole a lot of different ways. He could have 30 points and not have a dunk on many nights.''
That's one way to assess Wilkins' game for those unconvinced of his all-around excellence: Factor out the dunks. No official tally of his lifetime jam numbers exists, so let's err on the severe side. Howard has led the NBA in dunks for the past three-plus seasons and, in the first 376 games of his career, he totaled 1,026 -- an average of 2.73 per game. Assuming Wilkins dunked with Howard's frequency (which is doubtful, given his smaller stature and domain away from the rim), over 'Nique's 1,074 games, he would have done so 2,932 times. That's 5,864 points just on dunks.
Now take those away from his NBA scoring total of 26,669. His theoretical dunk-less number would be 20,804 -- dropping him from No. 10 on the all-time list but still good enough for No. 29. That's still more points than David Robinson, Mitch Richmond, Terry Cummings, Bob Lanier or Pippen scored, dunks included. Wilkins' scoring average would drop from 24.8 to 19.4, still higher than Reggie Miller, Glen Rice, Chet Walker, Hal Greer, Dolph Schayes, Earl Monroe, Nate Archibald, Sam Jones and McHale. The last six on that list, by the way, were on the 50 greatest list.
"The dunk was a tool for intimidation that I used,'' Wilkins said, "but a lot of times I dunked because it was the only shot I could get, the only way I could score. I was an all-around player -- if I was just a scorer, there's no way the Hawks would have won 50 games four years in a row.''
That brings up another aspect of Wilkins' career: the missing sidekick. Jordan had Pippen, Bird had McHale and Robert Parish, Johnson had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy, Isiah Thomas had Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman -- Hall of Famers with Hall of Famers (Rodman would make it if the shrine wasn't terrified of his induction speech). Wilkins? He had three seasons worth of Malone, ages 33-35. Otherwise, his top teammates were Willis, Dan Roundfield and Doc Rivers.
"If I had had a great complementary player or two, I could have gotten a few triple-doubles, too," Wilkins said. "But a lot of nights, if I don't score 25 or 30, we don't win.''
Alex English, a silky-smooth jump shooter who scored 25,613 points alongside the likes of Thompson and Dan Issel, said: "I agree with him. He scored a lot of points off jump shots. He had a good mid-range [game]. But Dominique's whole thing was, he could get to the hole and that's what they needed him to do, so that's what he did.''
What Wilkins does now is serve as a Hawks vice president and work as an analyst on their broadcast network. He occasionally has been called on to judge, either formally or informally, recent dunk contests at All-Star weekend. He is in Phoenix this weekend and, for the record, likes the 2008 winner to repeat.
"Dwight Howard impressed me the most last year,'' he said. "For a big guy, it was amazing what he did out there.''
It would even be better, given Howard's overall game, if he could restore a little legitimacy to and remove a little onus from the list of dunk winners. The Human Highlight Film would thank the man in Superman's cape, one NBA superhero able to leap tall buildings to another.
Steve Aschburner covered the Minnesota Timberwolves and the NBA for 13 seasons for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He has served as president or vice president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association since 2005.