Earl Boykins Still Proving Doubters Wrong
LOS ANGELES -- Earl Boykins is still around. He's still sometimes mistaken for a ball boy. He still can completely disappear when a center sets a pick.
But just in case there was anybody who forgot Boykins is still in the NBA, he reminded them Tuesday.
The 5-foot-5 Boykins, the second-shortest player in NBA history, scored 22 points in a 98-79 rout of the Lakers at the Staples Center. That was one more point than Lakers star Kobe Bryant or anybody else managed in the game, and the best outing by Boykins in more than 3 ½ years.
"The doubters are always going to be there,'' Boykins said when asked if it was a reminder to some he still can play. "Even after (Tuesday), somebody will say, 'That's only one game.' So the doubters are always there. I don't even worry about it.''
Boykins has heard the doubters all his life, and from NBA folks since he first tried to make the league in 1998 after being undrafted out of Eastern Michigan. But in recent years doubters have been heard for reasons other than the guard's size.
Boykins is 34, an age in which some have believed he might no longer be quick enough to be an effective NBA player. In fact, until Tuesday he hadn't scored more than 20 points in an NBA game since putting up 28 for Milwaukee in the April 18, 2007 regular-season finale in his hometown of Cleveland.
During the summer of 2007, after a season in which he averaged a career-high 14.6 points, Boykins opted out of a contract that would have paid him $3 million the next season. It turned out to be a mistake since Boykins received no NBA offers even close to that amount.
"It was just a decision that I decided to make. It was that simple,'' said Boykins, who said he has no regrets.
Boykins ended up sitting out the first half of 2007-08 before signing a minimum deal with Charlotte. He was a bit player the rest of the season for the Bobcats.
Boykins went to Italy in 2008-09, where he made a handsome salary of $3.5 million. He played last season with Washington, where his time was up and down and his scoring average a so-so 6.6.
This season, it was back to Milwaukee. But Boykins didn't see much time in the first two months as the third-string point guard, getting into 15 of 25 games while averaging 9.5 minutes and 3.1 points.
But everything changed after it was revealed Monday that Milwaukee starting point Brandon Jennings was lost for four to six weeks with a broken left foot. Boykins logged 27 minutes that night at Portland in relief of starter Keyon Dooling. Then came Tuesday, when he turned back the clock by shooting 8-of-12, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range, in 26 minutes.
"We know he has it,'' Bucks coach Scott Skiles said of always believing Boykins could be called upon when needed. "This is what he's done most of his career. ... He can change a game. He learned a long time ago how to use his size to his advantage, and he does a good job of that. And, when he gets a hot hand, he's a very good shooter.''
Skiles wasn't Milwaukee's coach during his last Bucks stint. The only other players still around from the 2006-07 Bucks are center Andrew Bogut, guard Michael Redd and forward Ersan Ilyasova, who said Boykins doesn't have the quickness he once did.
"He's changed his game style,'' Ilyasova said. "I think he gets a little bit older... He can stroke it and can shoot the ball and make the right decision in a short period. ... He's still strong but he has not the speed like he was before.''
So how does Boykins feel about perhaps having lost a step? He merely shrugged.
"I think the biggest thing throughout my career is everybody thought my career was based on quickness,'' Boykins said. "It has never been about quickness. My career has been based on intelligence. So I'm still the same player, and that's why I've been able to be successful.''
If they didn't already know, the Lakers found that out Tuesday.
"Everybody has seen him do it before,'' said Lakers forward Matt Barnes. "This guy's in the league because he can score. That's what he does is score.''
Boykins had shot just 2-of-11 for six points on Monday. But Boykins wasn't concerned because he felt he just missed shots he normally makes.
In the second half Tuesday, Skiles unleashed Boykins. In 15 minutes, he shot 6-of-8, including 4-of-4 on 3-pointers, for 18 points as the Bucks outscored the Lakers 48-33 after intermission.
"I've always believed from Day 1 that I could play in this league,'' Boykins, a 12-year veteran, said in expressing no surprise at his outing. "Whether or not, I get the opportunity or not, that's a different story. But I've always believed in myself.''
Boykins sure has. After playing for five teams in his first five seasons and being waived four times, Boykins found a home with Denver in 2002-03. He spent 4 ½ seasons with the Nuggets before being traded to Milwaukee in January 2007.
Boykins averaged 12.1 points during his Denver stint, including 15.2 in his final half season there, and established himself as one of the best little-guy scorers the league ever has seen. The only player in NBA history shorter than Boykins, 5-3 Muggsy Bogues, never averaged more than 11.1 points in a season.
"Earl has been probably the best scorer out of those guys in the league,'' said Nuggets coach George Karl, talking about the very smallest players in NBA history, a list that also includes 5-7 Spud Webb. "I don't know if I've ever been around a guy that's more confident than Earl. He's fearless.''
Boykins had the best scoring stretch of his career when Denver forward Carmelo Anthony was serving a 15-game suspension in 2006-07. In the first 11 games Anthony was out, Boykins averaged 23.2 points before the Nuggets used his suddenly inflated value to send him to Milwaukee in a deal that landed Steve Blake.
"He's one of the game-changers,'' said Anthony, who played with Boykins his entire Denver tenure, "Just a guy that small coming into the league and doing the things that he's capable of doing. I was fortunate to play with him for a lot of years.''
So how many years will others have the chance to play with Boykins? The ever-confident guard said "for sure'' when asked if he expects to be in the NBA for at least a couple more.
"When you're 5-5, you have to be confident,'' Boykins said. "That's the only way you can survive in this game because there are so many doubters out there saying what you can't do. How you're too small, how you're too this. You always have to have unbelievable confidence in yourself that you can go out there and be successful.''
Yes, there still are doubters. But at least there are less after Boykins' showing Tuesday.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter@christomasson