Amid the fanfare over Tom Gugliotta's 39-point, 15-rebound performance in the Washington Bullets' 126-109 rout of the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, it was easy to overlook the solid contribution of another rookie -- Doug Overton, who had 21 points and 12 assists as the Bullets (4-5) won their third straight.
Big things were expected of Gugliotta, who was the sixth player selected in the June NBA draft. But Overton, who spent last winter in the Continental Basketball Association after being cut by the Detroit Pistons, and then gravitated to Australia this summer, has been a surprising bonus.
Asked if he was surprised to be starting for the Bullets, Overton laughed and said, "You gotta be kidding me. I thought I'd be flying back to Sydney, to rejoin my old team."
But in the space of a week the Bullets lost starting shooting guard Rex Chapman to a back injury and his backup, LaBradford Smith, with a sprained ankle. Opportunity knocked, and Overton, in midseason shape, was ready to prove himself.
Overton, at 6 feet 3, teams with veteran playmaker Michael Adams, listed generously at 5-10, to form one of the smallest backcourts in the league.
But Saturday, they combined for 46 points and the Bullets converted fast breaks into 34 points.
Watching Overton perform, it is difficult to understand why he failed to secure a job in the NBA last season. It certainly could not be attributed to a low college profile.
"Going into his senior year at La Salle, we had Overton rated right with Nevada-Las Vegas' Greg Anthony as the top point guards in the country," said Bullets general manager John Nash. "But Doug had a severe ankle sprain in February of that season, and it really affected his game. He tried coming back too soon, and you could see he wasn't the same player. And now people were suddenly rating him the fourth- or fifth-best point guard."
Overton tried to redeem himself at the pro tryout camp in Orlando, Fla., but his shaky performance only further diminished his status, and Detroit used its second-round pick (40th overall) to draft him.
The Pistons, with their talented backcourt of Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, gave Overton only a cursory look in camp after acquiring veteran Darrell Walker from the Bullets to serve as a backup. And Overton began his odyssey to the CBA and Australia, hoping to be rediscovered.
When Overton's agent asked Nash if he might be interested, Nash sent an invitation, and Overton flew from Sydney to join the Bullets, who had completed two weeks of camp.
Second-round draft choice Brent Price had looked impressive until suffering a groin pull that kept him out of all but the first preseason game. Overton stepped in and impressed coach Wes Unseld.
But when the season began, Overton still was regarded as the "13th man" and was placed on the injured list with a sore toe. When Smith hurt his ankle, Overton replaced him on the roster Nov. 15, and now has the Bullets maneuvering to find a way to retain him when Smith and Chapman are reactivated.
It probably will require trading a bench warmer for a future draft pick. Reserve center Greg Foster, who has played 57 minutes in nine games, looks the most vulnerable.