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Boris Diaw turns around career with Spurs, but don’t call him rejuvenated

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Boris Diaw was playing some of the worst basketball of his career in 2012 – when he was playing at all. Not even the Charlotte Bobcats, en route to the worst record in NBA history (7-59), deemed him worthy of minutes every game. Diaw looked out of shape and lethargic. As his production and conditioning worsened, the Bobcats finally, mercifully bought him out.

Two years later, Diaw was in the running for NBA Finals MVP with the Spurs.

Did San Antonio rejuvenate him?

“No!” Diaw snaps before breaking into a laugh.

“If I was rejuvenated,” Diaw says, “that means I got old at some point.”

Diaw certainly hasn’t looked over the hill with the Spurs, whom he signed with after his 2012 buyout. He has played in more wins (204) than anyone the last four years. His combination of points (1,270), rebounds (617) and assists (420) as a reserve in that span is unmatched.

And he has helped the Spurs to a 34-6 start and nine straight wins this season heading into their matchup with the Cavaliers tonight.

“He’s a really smart basketball player, probably one of the most intelligent players in the league,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said.

Draft buzz in 2003 called Diaw a 6-foot-9 point guard. Now, the Spurs list him as a 6-foot-8 center-forward. He has also played both wing positions during a 13-year that also included stops with the Hawks and Suns.

He has shown amazing athleticism. Yet, his weight – listed at 250 pounds – is a common concern.

And as he put it, “I’m at the same time very easy to coach and at the same time very hard to coach.”

Diaw was difficult to coach in Charlotte, where then-Bobcats coach Paul Silas ripped his effort and commitment. He was also difficult to coach in Atlanta, where he told isolation-favoring coach Mike Woodson he couldn’t play for him.

The common theme: Both coaches wanted Diaw to score more.

“I’m not that,” Diaw said. “I need teammates and good teammates. I need a system where the ball is moving, where it’s team basketball.”

Diaw said he has long recognized how much his team’s style affects him, but he can’t always control it. He fit with the Hawks, who drafted him No. 21 in 2003, until they fired Terry Stotts for Woodson. He clicked for Mike D’Antoni’s Suns, but then they replaced him with Terry Porter and traded him to Charlotte. There, Diaw meshed with Larry Brown before the Bobcats fired him and hired Silas.

So, Diaw knew what he wanted when he became a free agent in the spring of 2012: a team that shared the ball, was headed to the postseason and could become a long-term fit.

The Spurs just weren’t certain they wanted him.

Though Popovich declined to look back on Diaw’s Charlotte-to-San Antonio transition – “When did he play for Charlotte? Twenty years ago or something?” Popovich said. “It’s 2016” – Tony Parker remembers it well. The Spurs point guard, who grew up with Diaw in France, recalls Popovich and San Antonio general manager R.C. Buford asking about Diaw.

“Charlotte was saying stuff about him,” Parker said. “I’m like, ‘Are you serious?’ I’m like, ‘I’ve been playing with him with the national team. There’s no way Boris is like that.'”

Parker’s message to Popovich and Buford: “We have to do it. He’s going to be perfect.”

In many ways, Diaw has been.

He appears to get along well with Popovich, and the Spurs’ emphasis on ball movement suits him to a T. Diaw also  provides them with a versatility that creates mismatches.

Start with Diaw’s scoring ability.

Put a smaller player on him, and Diaw will post him up. Put a bigger player on him, and Diaw will take him to the perimeter. Guard him too closely there, and Diaw will drive to the basket. Too loosely, and he’ll shoot 3-pointers.

Diaw is the only player shooting 60% on both post-ups and drives (minimum 10 attempts of each). Here’s the field-goal percentages of all 90 qualifying players, Diaw represented by a black dot and everyone else gray:

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Player Team Post-ups Drives
Boris Diaw SAS 61% 63%
Kevin Durant OKC 63% 58%
Nikola Vucevic ORL 53% 61%
Blake Griffin LAC 43% 66%
Charlie Villanueva DAL 60% 49%
Giannis Antetokounmpo MIL 55% 52%
Andrew Nicholson ORL 50% 56%
Arron Afflalo NYK 59% 47%
Kawhi Leonard SAS 53% 52%
Chris Paul LAC 50% 55%
Shabazz Muhammad MIN 55% 50%
Kelly Olynyk BOS 57% 47%
Paul Millsap ATL 53% 49%
Jabari Parker MIL 53% 48%
Evan Turner BOS 46% 54%
Thaddeus Young BKN 50% 49%
Karl-Anthony Towns MIN 47% 52%
Nikola Mirotic CHI 45% 54%
Carmelo Anthony NYK 45% 54%
Dwyane Wade MIA 45% 53%
Greg Monroe MIL 43% 55%
Shaun Livingston GSW 56% 42%
Mirza Teletovic PHX 44% 53%
Harrison Barnes GSW 52% 44%
Luol Deng MIA 44% 52%
Derrick Williams NYK 46% 50%
Marcus Morris DET 50% 45%
DeMar DeRozan TOR 43% 52%
Andrew Wiggins MIN 46% 48%
LeBron James CLE 43% 51%
Amir Johnson BOS 53% 40%
Brook Lopez BKN 48% 45%
Al Horford ATL 48% 44%
Russell Westbrook OKC 42% 49%
Danilo Gallinari DEN 53% 39%
David West SAS 51% 40%
Chris Bosh MIA 39% 51%
Lance Thomas NYK 50% 40%
Rudy Gay SAC 53% 37%
Kenneth Faried DEN 53% 37%
Zach Randolph MEM 43% 46%
DeMarcus Cousins SAC 44% 44%
Jared Sullinger BOS 42% 46%
Deron Williams DAL 39% 48%
Ryan Anderson NOP 47% 39%
Ersan Ilyasova DET 40% 46%
Mason Plumlee POR 53% 33%
James Harden HOU 38% 48%
Rodney Hood UTA 40% 46%
Josh Smith LAC 44% 42%
David Lee BOS 43% 43%
Joe Johnson BKN 40% 44%
Kyle Lowry TOR 38% 46%
Khris Middleton MIL 41% 43%
Pau Gasol CHI 40% 43%
Marvin Williams CHA 60% 23%
Jeff Green MEM 43% 40%
Jon Leuer PHX 40% 43%
Wesley Matthews DAL 35% 47%
Spencer Hawes CHA 41% 42%
Luis Scola TOR 45% 38%
Klay Thompson GSW 40% 42%
Bojan Bogdanovic BKN 41% 40%
Kobe Bryant LAL 35% 45%
Jimmy Butler CHI 34% 46%
LaMarcus Aldridge SAS 47% 33%
Nerlens Noel PHI 39% 41%
Anthony Davis NOP 34% 46%
Nicolas Batum CHA 41% 36%
Derrick Favors UTA 45% 30%
Gordon Hayward UTA 31% 44%
Markieff Morris PHX 32% 42%
Gerald Henderson POR 33% 41%
Kevin Love CLE 53% 21%
Andre Drummond DET 41% 33%
Tobias Harris ORL 32% 40%
Stanley Johnson DET 36% 34%
Kristaps Porzingis NYK 39% 31%
Kevin Martin MIN 27% 42%
Terrence Jones HOU 42% 27%
Draymond Green GSW 28% 41%
Aaron Gordon ORL 25% 43%
Michael Carter-Williams MIL 21% 46%
Julius Randle LAL 30% 38%
PJ Tucker PHX 26% 40%
Marcus Smart BOS 30% 36%
Paul George IND 20% 46%
Frank Kaminsky CHA 33% 30%
Noah Vonleh POR 15% 38%
Metta World Peace LAL 8% 30%

The only other player in Diaw’s class is Kevin Durant.

Diaw’s 3-point shooting has also jumped to 38% after dipping last year. He’s shooting 37% from beyond the arc with the Spurs, more than enough to force defenses to account for him.

And scoring just scratches the surface of what Diaw brings to the table.

Whether he’s spotting up on the perimeter, driving to the hoop or posting up, Diaw is looking to pass. Thought he pre-draft evaluations were overblown, Diaw often resembles a point guard in a power forward’s body.

Diaw is a solid position defender. He helps on the glass, too.

All this adds up to a prime playoff contributor. Opponents will have a difficult time finding a weakness to exploit. Meanwhile, Diaw will create mismatches.

The Spurs – with Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Parker – have the talent to compete with anyone. Diaw help them turn the style of any game to their favor.

That’s why Parker, who has played only for San Antonio and never even entered free agency, is so glad the Spurs listened to his recommendation. It’s telling that, when trying to clear cap space for Aldridge, San Antonio traded Tiago Splitter rather than Diaw.

Unlike most post-buyout free agents, Diaw wasn’t looking for just a few-month destination to finish the season in 2012. He wanted to find a long-term home, and it appears he has.

“Hopefully,” Parker said, “we can finish our careers together.”

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.