When an NBA player joins a team and provides a solid performance in his first year, it gives fans reason to hope that even more improvement will be seen the longer he stays with the team. Sometimes though, as in the case of Rasheed Wallace with the Detroit Pistons, that first year represents the apex of the player's time with that club. So what is it that we will see in the first full year that Boris Babacar Diaw-Riffiod spends in San Antonio? Should Spur fans look at last year's success and be optimistic, or should we be concerned that his career trends will repeat themselves?
Diaw's Career Stats
After a trade that sent Joe Johnson to the Atlanta Hawks and Boris to Phoenix, Diaw flourished in his first season with the Suns. A run and gun offense led by Steve Nash allowed a young, trim Diaw to fit right in to Mike D'Antoni's system which garnished him, that year, with the award of NBA Most Improved Player. Filling in for the injured Amar'e Stoudemire, Diaw recorded five triple doubles in 2006, becoming the first Frenchman in NBA history to record a triple double. Any unbiased NBA observer would have agreed that his future was bright.
A Trend Begins
Come the 2006-07 season, and the return of a rehabbed Stoudemire, Boris Diaw saw his role reduced, and he played mostly as a reserve. You could argue that he was tossed off the Phoenix Suns Express as they chose not to see if he could repeat the success he had in his first year with the team. And though he played one of his best playoff games against our own San Antonio Spurs in 2008, nearly posting another triple double, Boris was traded to the Charlotte Bobcats just twenty-two games into the ‘09 season.
After 59 games and 59 starts with this new team, Boris catapulted himself to career high numbers, and the Bobcats barely missed their first playoff berth, just 4 games out of the eighth seed. But once again, his second year saw a decline from his promising inaugural stats. This time, it wasn't due to a returning franchise player. Instead, the entire franchise was turned upside down as a former mega-star player turned owner, Michael Jordan, decided to "rebuild" the team in his own likeness. In the years that followed, Boris did not produce as he had in his first year in a Bobcat uniform, and his numbers decreased every year until he was waived by his former team in March of last year. During his tenure in Charlotte, there was much questioning of Diaw's commitment to team, and the game of basketball itself, as it seemed he returned to every training camp over-weight and less focused.
This is where I tell you how much I'd like to believe that Diaw ends the trend of setting a mark in his first year that he never approaches again. However, early into his second season with the Spurs, Boris has found himself in familiar territory once again. Is his relegation to bench a matter of not exhibiting the contributions expected by his coach? Or is he being placed, as Ginobili, in a role of providing the best secondary unit possible while the starters rest?
What I am guessing, possibly erroneously, is that Diaw isn't going to be the player who will significantly improve the Spurs frontline. Boris is masterful in setting up and delivering assists. He is also one of the most technically sound, high basketball IQ players on the team, but it it would be unfair to expect him to return to the triple-double threat he was in his Phoenix days. Perhaps 9 years of uncertainty, whether self induced or created by unfavorable circumstances, may have taken its toll both physically and emotionally. Yet at 30 years of age, one would think his skills haven't fallen so far that he can't attain a stat line at least somewhat close to what he used to produce -- on a per minute scale, at least.
Maybe it's necessary to look at Le Problème Diaw from different angle. He's no playing on that primadonna-laden Phoenix Suns team anymore. Nor are the Spurs an organization in disarray as the Charlotte Bobcats during his time there. It's the absolute antithesis for him in San Antonio. It should not be out of the question that Diaw can be as good as once was, or close to it, especially now that he is a part of such a well run organization. Boris should not hold back, and if he lets go of the past, he just might rekindle a competitive spirit that equals his pedigree and wisdom. And as evidenced early in this season, there are questions regarding post players able to perform competently when Tim Duncan is not on the court. This is why he's here. His club needs a player who can contribute as efficiently and competitively as Boris once did, giving the Spurs more than just a warm body to throw on the court, but a proven starting-caliber player who could take over a game at a moments notice.
So, I guess the question I want an answer for is: which Boris Diaw will we see this year? My hope is history won't repeat itself, and trends of his past will be reversed, while he regains and maintains, his freshman ways long throughout his tenure with the San Antonio Spurs.