When it comes to offensive rebounding, the Nets' Jayson Williams is so good that his teammates call him Flipper. "I'm like a dolphin," Williams jokes. "I keep bringing the ball back to them. Sometimes they want me to bring it back on my nose."
Despite being one of the smallest centers in the league, the 6'10", 250-pound Williams leads the league in offensive boards this season, with 381 at week's end. ( Dennis Rodman, with 287, was a distant second.) "Sometimes I just take a couple of steps in and jump as high as I can," Williams says. "Other times I use my elbows and try to fight my way in there. It's mostly hard work, but there are also a few tricks involved."
Indeed, on the offensive glass Williams has more tricks than a porpoise at Sea World. "Unlike a lot of players, I watch the flight of the ball," Williams says. "I also know how my teammates shoot. When Sam Cassell misses, he tends to be short. Keith Van Horn, from the corner, tends to miss left or right, never short or long. Sherman Douglas, he shoots a looping shot, and the ball usually bounces softly around the rim, so I try to stay near the hoop."
Williams, who bench-presses 450 pounds, also uses his strength to prevent his defender from boxing him out. "It's very important to get yourself planted on the blocks," he says. "Guys get frustrated when you try to go around them all the time. You've got to get in position, or you'll get hit in the face with a lot of elbows."
When he can't get planted, however, Williams gets a running start and "crashes" from outside. "I've got great feeling in my hands from laying bricks," says Williams, who spent summers as a teenager doing construction work alongside his father in New York City. "A ball can be 15 feet from the rim, and sometimes I can tip it right into the basket."
On the road Williams makes a point of checking the tightness of the basket rims during warmups—something he picked up from former Nets assistant coach Paul Silas, one of the league's legends under the boards. "He taught me that it's all about geometry and knowing angles," Williams says. "He helped me become a great rebounder."
Now Williams seems poised to elbow and crash his way past Silas into the offensive rebounding pantheon. If he can maintain his current pace of 6.9 offensive boards per game, he will finish the season with 567, which would be the third-best total in NBA history, behind Moses Malone's 587 in 1978-79 and 573 in '79-80.
"Fans might not always notice when you're working hard on the offensive boards," Williams says. "But it really feels good after the game when your teammates come up to you and say, 'Yo, Flipper, thanks.' " Even if they don't pat him on the head and toss him a fish.