Boris Diaw was the difference maker for the Spurs in the match ups against the Thunder and the Heat. His inside-outside game allows the team the versatility to adjust to anything. But he's struggled to stay motivated in the past, and he could be looking for one last big pay day. What are the Spurs to do with Boris Diaw?
"New Boris" or outlier year?
Only three times in his 13-year career has Boris Diaw averaged more than 13 points per 36 minutes. Before this past season, the last time he did it was in 2008/09. He has made over 40% of his three-point attempts only twice in his career, including last yeah. The lowest turnover percentage he ever recorded was in 2013/14.
What characterized this improved version of Diaw was his aggressiveness, his ability to hit the limited outside shots he attempted and his penchant for -- more often than not-- making the right decision. Those are areas in which he has never excelled, at least not as well as he just did for the Spurs.
That has to make the Spurs wonder if his performance is repeatable. Was Boris simply freed by the Spurs' system and philosophy to be all he could be? Or was his assertiveness fueled by the fact that it was a contract year? The shooting percentages are suspect as well. In the regular season he was extremely reluctant to take three pointers and in the playoffs he had unprecedented effectiveness for his standards despite his volume increasing. Diaw has never been a great three point shooter. He's never been an even passable volume three point shooter. But this past season he was both at different times.
2013/14 wasn't representative of what Boris has achieved throughout his career. So the Spurs need to figure out if he can replicate that performance. If they don't think he can, they need to be very careful when coming up with a number for his new contract. A timid Boris Diaw is not a key player. Do they expect timidity or aggression from Diaw going forward?
The perfect fit
The Spurs are at their best with the lineup of Parker-Green-Leonard-Duncan-Splitter is on the court and scoring. Defensively, that unit is amazing. And when things are clicking, they can create separation. The only big problem that lineup has is it's not flexible at all. If one little thing goes wrong, it snowballs into a huge problem. If the wings are not hitting open shots, there's no scoring. If Parker is not operating at peak efficiency, there's no scoring. If Timmy is not hitting from mid-range, there's no scoring.
Opponents know that. They also now that with a little lineup tweak or by helping off of Splitter, they can neutralize the unit's effectiveness. The Spurs have relied on rigid lineups like that for years and have brought in Ginobili off the bench to help them and used Bonner to stretch the floor. But with Duncan's shot abandoning him and the other members of the Big Three not as effective in creating for themselves, it was often not enough. So they needed more than floor spacing from that second big; they needed playmaking ability. And Diaw was the perfect answer in that role.
Whenever the bigs started to hang back, taking away dribble penetration, the Spurs brought in Diaw. Boris doesn't demand the close attention someone like Bonner does but he can hit the three on occasion and, more importantly, in those broken possessions when the opponent takes away the first option (the dribble driver scoring) and the second option (finding a finisher open) Diaw can create a new attack. He was one of the scariest triple threats in the league after those desperation kick out passes. He could put the ball on the floor, driving off close outs or going to the post. He could take the shot if the close out was late. And he could find any crack in the defense to make a pass to a cutter or shooter that was momentarily left open. That gave the Spurs' offense another dimension that even Manu doesn't provide.
Diaw wasn't a stretch big in the traditional sense. He was something wholly unique. And that incredible versatility he possessed was exactly what the Spurs needed.
Should the Spurs bring Diaw back?
Of course. Bringing back Diaw is the priority of the off-season. If the Spurs keep him, I expect them to also bring Mills back and maybe add someone else using the MLE. Maybe. But if Diaw leaves, they are going to need every cent of their cap space to try and replace him. Once again, IF Diaw can continue to play like he did last season, he is as much of an impact player as any second-tier free agent available. There just aren't a lot of players out there who can score, shoot, create and have a high basketball IQ on the defensive end.
Fortunately for the Spurs, his past should scare some teams away. If the San Antonio front office has concerns about whether Boris will continue to be aggressive, other teams should be terrified. If the Spurs, who are a perfect fit for a player of Diaw's talents, have one of the most stable environments in the league and employ one of Boris' best friends, can't keep Diaw motivated and happy, who can?
That's why I expect the negotiations to go rather smoothly. If the Splitter situation is any indication, the Spurs won't bid against themselves but will act quickly if they think there's a chance some other team might scoop him up.
Any contract that is no longer than two years is fine. If Diaw doesn't produce next season, his contract will still be moveable. After all, the Spurs only need flexibility after next year. And having a solid player on a big expiring contract is a good trade chip, if the team decides to reload after Duncan and Ginobili retire. So the term will be more important than the amount.
There are two scenarios that I think could be beneficial to both parties. The first is simple: a two-year, $15 contract. That should be enough to satisfy Boris, who would make the same amount Manu is making. The other option is a three-year deal worth $18 million, but with the last year only partially guaranteed. Half, to be precise. That contract would assure Diaw at least $15 million and would allow the Spurs to maintain flexibility.