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FreeDarko, Bill Walton and Boris Diaw

“And when I think of Boris Diaw, I think of Beethoven and the age of the Romantics.”
-Bill Walton, via FreeDarko presents The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History, p94

While no date is given for this quote, I have to imagine Walton is referring to the Diaw of the 2005-06 season – the league’s most improved player with an impressive all-around floor game who helped the Suns weather the loss of Amar’e Stoudemire during a 54-win season (with Amar’e the years prior and post, 62 and 61 wins). 13.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 6.2 assists – other 6′-7″ and taller forwards who have produced those numbers for a season since the 3-pointer debuted: Larry Bird, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, Scottie Pippen, Grant Hill and Detlef Schrempf. And no more (courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com). Yes, Boris was at the bottom of the requirements used – 13 pts/game, 6.5 rebounds/game, and 6 assists/game – but it is impressive company regardless. But that season was the aberration.

Amar’e’s return for the 2006-07 season didn’t really complicate anything for anyone other than Diaw, who, when removed from the limelight, fell into a basketball depression (complete with bonbon obsession) that shall never be cured.
-via FreeDarko presents The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History, p191

In only slightly reduced minutes in that 2006-07 season (down from 35 to 31), Boris dropped from his previous marks to 9.7, 4.3, and 4.8 (from 24 player seasons of matching his uber-season, the number jumps to 166 with this more pedestrian line).  And that decline continued in the next 2 seasons, prompting the Suns to trade him to the Charlotte Bobcats in early 2008-09.

Where Boris flourished as a Bobcat, as he had the opportunity to assume a more central offensive facilitator role again.  Diaw became the active and aggressive player that had previously made him a curiosity/marvel in the desert – more and less so even.  In Charlotte, Boris scored more than he ever had before, despite playing a far slower pace.  In that first partial season in the Queen City – 15.1 points per game, 5.9 rebounds, and 4.9 assists.  Not as impressive as PHX, you say?  Consider the advanced stats:  10.7 TRB% and 24.9% Assist% as a Sun, and 9.7 and 23.4 as a Bobcat.  Not such a dramatic fall-off anymore.  That basketball depression that would never be cured had actually found a remedy:  Being the focal point once again.   Given leading man status, Boris produced in a way few men of his size have in this game – not a dominant scorer, but active and aggressive in flitting bursts while creating opportunities where none seemed to exist.

But it happened again – Boris lost top billing and, with it, his unique production.  Less than a year after Diaw arrived as part of a large trade in Charlotte, the Bobcats swung another large deal, bringing Stephen Jackson to the Cats – and Diaw’s decline was as precipitous as occurred when Amar’e crashed his coming out party in Phoenix.  It took just 15 games with Jax in Charlotte to see this decline in Boris’ game – Boris Diaw’s Fade Out.  The results changed little by the end of last season:  Boris finished last season with per game averages of 11.3 pts, 5.2 rebs and 4.0 dimes – and no need for advanced stats this time, as Charlotte’s pace did not shift dramatically from one year to the next.

Nearly 4 points and 1.5 combined rebounds/assists – gone.  From Diaw’s ledger, anyway.  While not surly or combative (at least not publicly), Diaw’s dramatic decrease in assertiveness no doubt was a source of concern around the team and franchise.  And to further complicate matters, this summer Diaw did not exactly look his best while representing for France in the World Basketball Championships this summer:

Checking in on Boris Diaw

As FreeDarko intimated previously, Diaw appears to be seeking comfort from his bonbons again.  And now in the early going of the 2010-11 season, Diaw is exhibiting similar aggression to last season – just 9.7 field goal attempts per 36 minutes.  The difference is the potentially passive aggressive nature of them:  This year that includes 5.4 three point attempts, whereas last year it was just 2.6.  With Larry Brown’s well known disdain for the long ball combined with Diaw’s seeming disregard for his fitness entering the season, it does not feel like paranoia to suppose that Boris is looking to move onto another moment in the sun.  The first prospective destination to come to mind:  Alongside Bargnani in Toronto, creating open looks for the fellow European.  The Raptors’ holey roster would provide ample opportunity for Diaw to display his array of abilities, drawing another fanbase in with his engrossing style of basketball, where he can dominate the floor in his passive way.  It may be fleeting – but it is spectacular to behold.

(Historical stats from Basketball-Reference.com – and go buy FreeDarko’s new book, as it is a great read.)