Following the Phoenix Suns’ 2006 playoff run, I had an argument with a friend.
He saw Amare Stoudemire’s face-up moves that allowed him to separate from defenders working with limited space in the post. I saw Boris Diaw’s hook shot and his ability to pass out of the post. Vaguely remembering the exact language, I said that Diaw was the better post player.
I’m sure digging up two high schoolers’ crude arguments that took place on AIM wouldn’t be healthy. The unrefined basketball talk and straight idiocy — that being unrelated to any basketball talk — would probably make me cringe.
Still, it’s important to remember the idea of the argument, however poorly I executed it. To this day I don’t think many people appreciate Diaw like they should.
The 2005-06 season was the year the Suns were without Stoudemire, remember, which meant that a good deal of fans were still steaming at owner Robert Sarver for his failure (if it were completely on him) to extend Joe Johnson the year prior. It didn’t help that the player Phoenix got from the Johnson sign-and-trade with Atlanta, Diaw, was filling in for an All-Star forward.
Even in averaging 18.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.1 blocks per game during a 20-game run that ended in the Western Conference Finals, Diaw probably didn’t get enough credit. During a six-game series loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the conference finals, he poured in 24.2 points per game and 8.5 rebounds, doing his best to match Dirk Nowitzki’s 28 points and 13.2 rebounds per game.
By the end of the Steve Nash era in Phoenix, the Nash-Diaw combo in 2005-06, sans Stoudemire, still had produced the 23rd most efficient offense in the past two decades. Nash obviously deserved credit, but Diaw since hasn’t had a better season.
Today more than ever, it doesn’t help that people see Diaw’s belly rather than how swiftly he moves, how smart he plays or how unique he really is.
Some Suns fans who witnessed Diaw’s best NBA season still fail to recognize the French forward, thinking more about his shapely figure and maybe his humorous appearances on TMZ-esque “The Dirty.”
But if the San Antonio Spurs break the Miami Heat’s championship bid, maybe it’ll be enough for Diaw to have his due credit.
With a big postseason already in his backpocket and with the ability to defend everyone from Chris Bosh, to Rashard Lewis, to stints on LeBron James, Diaw could swing the finals in San Antonio’s favor.
When James left Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals with cramps, the Spurs got their Spursiest.
Diaw re-entered with his team trailing 85-79 and less than 10 minutes to play. On his first touch, he sent a zipping, overhead pass from the left wing to the right, allowing the receiving Kawhi Leonard to take his man off the dribble and get to the hoop to draw a foul.
With six minutes to play, another Diaw skip-pass from the right wing found Danny Green in the shooter’s pocket and resulted in a made three from the left corner. A play later, he drove the right baseline and with one hand (on the move, mind you) whipped a belt-level pass to Green, who this time was standing on the left side of the arc. The in-rhythm, perfectly-placed pass ended with another triple to give San Antonio a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Diaw scored his only point with just more than three minutes left, when he earned low-post position by fronting Lewis, on a fastbreak no less. Diaw’s only points of the night came on the layup, but the thing that stood out was Diaw’s plus-minus.
The Spurs outscored the Heat by 30 when Diaw was on the floor, and the forward finished with 10 boards and six assists.
Diaw’s best individual season in 2005-06 was highlighted by a Game 1 game winner in the conference finals against the Dallas Mavericks, and his 2014 postseason run had a familiar start.
From his best season to his current one, it’s come full circle.
It’d be nice if he could get a little credit.