Boris Diaw has gone from Bobcats castoff to NBA Finals difference maker

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MIAMI — There was a time, just a little more than two years ago, when a Charlotte Bobcats team with the worst record in the NBA was more than happy to buy out an overweight Boris Diaw and get him off their roster. He was averaging 7.7 points points a night shooting 41.4 percent overall and 27 percent from three, plus he was unhappy and almost eating himself out of the league.

Now, he’s a key starter on a San Antonio Spurs team on the doorstep of winning an NBA Finals.

“I just think the Bobcats were not the right fit for him because he’s the ultimate team player and needs a system and stuff like that,” said Tony Parker, who has played with Diaw since they were teenagers together in France. “He’s a perfect fit for us.”

That’s could be an understatement.

Diaw’s overall play could land him on some NBA Finals MVP ballots — since Gregg Popovich inserted him into the starting lineup in Game 3 the Spurs have just steamrolled the Heat. In the Finals Diaw is +15 per 48 minutes and the Spurs main lineup of him, Tim Duncan, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker is +51 per 48. He has the second most touches and the second most passes on the team, behind only Parker, in those two games — he is a hub of the Spurs’ offense.

To use Popovich’s words, Diaw lets the Spurs go small without actually going small (he is 6’8” and still carrying a little extra luggage listed at 250 pounds).

“You know, Boris pretty much does the same thing every night as far as helping us be a smarter team, at both ends of the floor,” Popovich said after Game 4. “He knows what’s going on most all the time.  At the offensive end he’s a passer.  He understands mismatches.  He knows time and score.  At the defensive end, he knows when to help.  He’s active.  So he just helps the whole team have a better IQ, I think.”

“Pop just told me that I was going to start the game and trying to be a facilitator out there, just trying to make plays for others and try to make the right choices,” Diaw said of being inserted into the starting lineup (which is “just” +6.3 per 48 with Diaw). “So I was just focusing on that role.  Being able to be a relay.  They’re pretty aggressive on their pickandrolls, so just try to be somebody that gives an outlet pass and looking for the open man.”

What he does well presents a challenge for Miami.

“He’s a crafty player man,” Chris Bosh said of Diaw. “He’s difficult, you never know what he’s going to do. You don’t know if he’s going to shoot it, you don’t know if he’s going to drive it, pass it, shoot it again, you don’t know what he’s going to do. I think his ability to do everything in that point forward kind of position makes it difficult…. He’s just one of those players that confuses the hell out of you. The minute you’re not watching he’s walking to the rim or shooting a set, wide-open three pointer.”

Popovich’s gift is defining roles that play to a player’s strengths then putting them in when they are in a position to succeed. Don’t ask a guy to be what he is not, ask him to do what he does well. 

For Diaw that is passing, facilitating. He drives to dish, but if you leave him open he can drain the three and if you close out he can put the ball on the floor and drive and draw defenders so he can make the right read and pass.

Diaw sees what he has done this series as taking what the Heat are giving him.

“I mean, obviously we were looking to pass the ball to each other,” Diaw said. “But they forced us into that, too, because they are very aggressive on the pickandrolls.  They don’t let us have any air, any space.  So we’ve got to drive, we’ve got to kick, and we’ve got to make a few passes before we get an open shot.  If we would have to do only one dribble and find somebody open and shoot it, we’d do it, too, but they force us to make three, four, five passes.  But at some point we find somebody….

“I always try to read on the floor who is going to be open.  We all try to make good passes.  Everybody on our team is reading, including me, but we don’t want to go for the home run pass.  We try to make the right pass, and sometimes the easy pass is the right pass.”

In Game 4 Diaw had 8 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists — he was on the verge of a triple-double. That he didn’t quite make the numbers does not detract from his overall impact — without him this would be a different series.

“I think he’s really found his rhythm,” Tim Duncan said. “He’s always been effective with what he’s done using his body, using his ability to pass and his ability to attack the basket and smaller players, and it’s really showing in this series.  He’s been the key for us early, catching and driving, making the right plays, finding open people.  He’s really changed the game for us, along with rebounding, defending as well as he has.

“He hasn’t really even scored that much, but he’s found a way to be really effective getting in the paint and finding people and making plays for us.”

So effective the Spurs are one win away from a title. 

An NBA first: Every coach who started last season is back

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MIAMI (AP) — Dozens of NBA players found new homes this offseason. A few front offices dealt with hirings and firings. There’s a new arena in Detroit and an ownership change looms in Houston. The league’s logo was even tweaked.

Change was everywhere.

That is, except the coaches’ offices.

Here’s a first for the NBA: Every coach is back. From the start of last season to the start of this season – barring something happening in training camps, anyway – not a single NBA team has changed coaches. That’s an unprecedented run of retention and an obvious source of pride for coaches across the league as the first practices of the season get set to occur this weekend.

“I think what people are seeing is what this league needs, what these players need more than anything, is stability and a consistent message,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, who’s going into his 10th season. “Otherwise we’re just losing ground if you have to start all over every year. That’s a tough way to win in this business. That’s a tough way to build any sort of culture or consistency.”

No one is starting over in the next few days, at least in the sense that a new staff is taking over a team.

Last season was the first since 1963-64 – and only the fourth in league history – where there were no in-season changes. The league was much smaller back then as well, with only nine coaches having to keep their bosses happy.

It’s a 30-team league now, and a year ago at this time 10 of those clubs had a new coach.

“From top to bottom, we have a very high quality level of coaching,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, the president of the National Basketball Coaches Association. “This is as stable as our profession has been in decades. Contracts are strong, the league is constructed in a way now where coaching is extremely important and ownership understands the importance of the coaching process.”

There hasn’t been a coaching hire since Jeff Hornacek was formally announced by the New York Knicks on June 2, 2016 – which might not sound that long ago, but in a field without any real job security that’s an eternity. So when coaches gathered last week for their annual preseason meeting, they celebrated the fact that there were no new faces in the room.

“We’ve talked about the importance of supporting one another – and at the same time, the need to try to beat each others’ brains in,” Carlisle said. “It’s a conflicting sort of concept from afar, but internally we are the only ones that know all the challenges that head coaches in the NBA face. And because of that, there’s a real healthy respect for one another.”

Summer vacations are ending now. Coaches will all be grabbing their whistles in the next few days, starting with Golden State’s Steve Kerr and Minnesota’s Tom Thibodeau on Saturday when the Warriors and Timberwolves open training camp – those teams can start early because they’re going to China in the preseason.

The other 28 teams start practice on Tuesday.

“In team-building and pro sports, a lot of times the methodical long game is what’s necessary,” said Spoelstra, the second-longest-tenured coach in the league behind San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich. “But you’re seeing less and less of that. That’s why last year was such a pleasant surprise. I think it really was a celebration of stability and an acknowledgment of how complex this position can be.”

 

Timberwolves sign Aaron Brooks for training camp, maybe more

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Tom Thibodeau brought in Jeff Teague to be the starting point guard in Minnesota (replacing Ricky Rubio, who was never a Thibs favorite). Behind him is the promising young guard Tyus Jones.

Could Aaron Brooks be added to the mix?

Minnesota announced on Thursday it had signed Brooks and he will be in training camp with them. While the terms of the deal were not made official, no doubt this is a contract for the minimum.

Brooks backed up Teague in Indiana last season, that trend could continue. Brooks will battle rookie Melo Trimble — also on a partially guaranteed deal — for the third point guard spot in camp. The Timberwolves have 17 people coming to training camp but do have a roster spot.

Brooks might work for the Timberwolves as a veteran off the bench, and we know Thibodeau likes veterans. Brooks brings energy on offense and he can knock down the three (37.5 percent last season), especially off a catch-and-shoot. However, he struggles defensively, especially if asked to switch. He has a limited game (which is why the Pacers moved on after last season and other teams didn’t come calling), but in a very limited role maybe it works for Minnesota.

Paul George says he “Didn’t know I was gonna be traded”

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As I have pointed out before here on NBC Sports, I really do love watching NBA marketing unfold in front of me. Some of it — like Kobe Bryant’s weird post career legacy massaging — is downright impressive.

Other instances are not quite as sly.

Enter newest Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George and his latest sponsored Instagram post.

In a recent video posted to his page, George put up a training montage set to an Eminem song that was essentially an advertisement for the gym and trainer he had been working with over the summer. The gym’s own page also features several of these videos. So far, pretty common stuff.

That is, until you read the Instagram caption and see what George had to say about his training. Let’s see if you can spot the issue.

Screenshot via Instagram:

Of course, the issue here is that George essentially took away the leverage the Indiana Pacers would have had if his trade request hadn’t somehow been made public. Repeatedly.

George knew he was going to get traded because Indiana had no choice but to trade him. Saying otherwise is a hilarious and transparent attempt to reshape recent history.

This is perhaps my favorite result of the platitudes drilled into the heads of players by team PR guys and agent media training. That is, when you talk nonsense for so long and during each and every interview — we just dug deep, it’s a game of inches, you have to want it more — sometimes you just don’t know when to stop trying to spin the story in your direction. Especially because the mantra of media training is to be boring and try say nothing, which is hard if you have something to prove or an opinion to change.

Between this and Kevin Durant openly admitting to having a burner Twitter account (which no doubt sparked a flurry of emails and calls between agents and their clients) this is shaping up to be one of the best NBA seasons in recent memories and that’s just from a new media standpoint.

Gordon Hayward says Isaiah Thomas “ultimately helped win me over”

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Gordon Hayward is now a member of the Boston Celtics, and we are all excited to see how the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference last season checks out with a newly revamped roster.

Of course, Boston has been the subject of much media attention after signing Hayward and trading Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. I think there should be some skepticism about how quickly Boston will be able to put things together, but this is a team of former and current All-Stars so they will likely be at least a Top 4 team out East.

Meanwhile, Hayward has written a new blog post on his personal website about the summer, taking on such subjects as the move to Massachusetts, video games, and what to expect this season.

One of the more interesting things that Hayward wrote about was just how much of an influence Thomas had in his decision to come to Boston. Hayward addresses Thomas’ influence in a section dedicated to him finding out about the trade to Cleveland.

Via GordonHayward20.life:

He didn’t just help recruit me to Boston—he was a big piece of that recruitment. He had talked a lot about city and how it was different to be a Celtic. He talked about the intensity of playing in the Eastern Conference Finals, playing at the Garden in the playoffs, and how much fun it was, and how much fun he had playing in Boston.

All of that ultimately helped win me over. And by the time of the trade, I had already started to build a little bit of a relationship with him.

The rest of Hayward’s post was about the subjects mentioned above, but it ended by saying that he understands the history of the organization and that he feels like he has not reached his full potential just yet.

Obviously, in signing him this season that’s exactly what the Celtics and Danny Ainge are hoping.