ATLANTA — Dominique Wilkins has picked up right where he left off last spring.
Wilkins, who led the NBA in scoring last season at 30.3 ppg while pacing the Atlanta Hawks to a 50-win season, scored 39 and 36 in the Hawks first two games of 1986-87, and the 6-foot-8 slam-dunk artist figures he ought to be able to keep up that pace.
"I've never felt better, either about myself or about my game," said Wilkins, entering his fifth NBA season after leaving the University of Georgia in 1982, a year earlier than originally scheduled.
"Playing basketball was never a problem, not even when I had other things to worry about. But getting my contract settled before the season began has cleared my mind. I can concentrate solely on basketball, work at making myself the best I can be."
There was some talk a couple of months ago that Wilkins might even sit out this season if a new deal wasn't cut. But most of that talk was coming from his agent and the Hawks jumping jack decided it was time to take matters into his own hands.
He sat down with Hawk General Manager Stan Kasten in late September and worked out a five-year contract reportedly worth $6.5 million.
"All of the sudden, I had lifetime security," said Wilkins. "I didn't have to worry about taking care of my mother or anyone else in my family. I didn't like the way the thing had been dragging out. The season was upon us and I wanted to get it worked out."
"That takes care of the next five years, but it's not the last time Dominique and I will have to talk about money," said Kasten. "He's only 26 with a lot of good years still ahead of him. I sort of dread thinking about the sort of money we'll probably be discussing five years from now."
Wilkins, born in France and raised in North Carolina, was one of the premier players in the Southeastern Conference for the three seasons before he decided to forgo his final year of college eligibility to sign with the Hawks.
He earned his keep in the NBA from the start, averaging 17.5 ppg as a rookie and 21.8 and 27.4 the next two seasons. But critics questioned his willingness to mix it up under the boards and his willingness to get the ball to his teammates.
"Dominique has come a long way," said Hawks Coach Mike Fratello. "He's much more the complete basketball player than he was the first few years he was in the league. Look at what he did up in Philadelphia the other night (when the Hawks beat the 76ers by nine points). Not only did he have those 36 points, he had nine rebounds and eight assists.
"He just keeps getting better," said Fratello. "Dominique will be the key to our offense for a lot of years to come."
Fratello expressed concern before the season began about how much harder it would be to keep up last year's pace.
"Every team in the league is going to be gunning for us," he said. "You have that every time a team jumps up from nowhere to have a good year."
In this season's opener, a win over New Jersey, Wilkins played 34 of the 48 minutes, hitting 14 of 23 from the floor and 11 of 13 from the charity stripe. And in the second, at Philadelphia where he went 43 minutes, he was 14 of 25 from the floor and 7 of 8 in free throws.
"In our first two games, we answered any questions anyone might have had about whether we were ready to play at least as well as we did last season," said Wilkins.