In less than one week, Damien Wilkins has gone from being a surprise training camp invite of the Detroit Pistons to preseason Game One starter.
For the well-traveled seven-year NBA veteran, this type of change is likely par for the course.
Wilkins didn't take the usual or easy road to the NBA. He started his college career at South Carolina but transferred to Georgia for his junior and senior years. He didn't attract much NBA interest, though, and went undrafted.
Given his pedigree, it would be natural to think this was a disappointment. Wilkins is the son of former NBA player Gerald Wilkins and nephew of NBA royalty Dominique Wilkins.
Wilkins didn't let this slight stop him. He worked his tail off and was signed by the Seattle Supersonics for the 2004-2005 season. He played for the Sonics for four seasons, Oklahoma City Thunder one season, Minnesota Timberwolves one season and Atlanta Hawks one season.
This brings us to 2012. Wilkins is fighting for a job with the Detroit Pistons and all indications are that Lawrence Frank would love to give him one.
Don't let the preseason start fool you. Wilkins will not be unseating Tayshaun Prince as the starting small forward during the regular season.
Wilkins has been impressive during training camp, though. An article by Vincent Goodwill in the Detroit News reports that Frank and Pistons teammates have been very complimentary to Wilkins for his all-around game and dedication to defense.Perhaps the opportunity to start in preseason was a reward for this.
Wilkins' defensive skills were developed over time; and as a means of survival. As a rookie, he had players like Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis in front of him to handle the scoring duties. His coach at the time, Nate McMillen, urged him to, "do something other players don't do."
That being said, Wilkins can score when he needs to. He once scored 41 points in a game his second year with Seattle.
If he makes the Pistons team though, it will be for his defensive game and his ability to fill a role. The Pistons, like the Sonics his rookie year, have established scorers. Wilkins knows that, barring injury, he will not be a starter. He will likely be the third or fourth man off the bench most nights.
The benefits a player like Wilkins can bring to a young Pistons team are immeasurable, though. Regardless of his playing time.
Lawrence Frank is going to stress defense. The Detroit News article quotes Austin Daye as saying, "85 percent of practice is at the defensive end." If that is accurate, Frank will want someone who already knows how to play defense. A veteran who can lead by example. Someone on the court who can set the tone at practice.
That's right, I'm talking about practice!Wilkins could easily be a fan favorite in Detroit; a hard-working city which loves hard-working players. He is a niche player whose effect on the game goes beyond the scoresheet.
Pistons fans have always loved their niche players; Vinnie Johnson, Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace are the famous ones. Wilkins would be more similar to Corliss Williamson, Jon Barry or Lindsey Hunter.
These players never received the notoriety of the others, but they greatly impacted the outcome of the game and the personality of the team.
A young team like Detroit greatly needs this kind of veteran presence. Prince, Rodney Stuckey, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva are not the type of players who will provide it. Richard Hamilton wasn't either. Perhaps Wilkins can fill that role.
If Franks thinks he can, you can bet Wilkins will be in a Pistons uniform to start the regular season.
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