Analyzing The Anomalous: Boris Diaw vs. Oklahoma City
Boris Diaw vs. Oklahoma City. The Spurs won 120-111. Diaw’s statistics: 27 minutes, 9 points on 4-5 shooting, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block.
Aren’t these Spurs so much fun to watch? The balance of their offense is beautiful in a perfect way. While every other team is playing on Earth, Duncan & Co. appear to hover above the clouds, seeing things before they happen and making sense of a broken, unpredictable game with an order and discipline that could very well be unprecedented.
The smoothness of San Antonio’s offense is one unanswerable question, similar to “Which came first: the Chicken or the egg?”. Is it so successful because of the skilled players who run it, or is the system in place what allows these players to thrive?
Regardless, what makes this baby hum, as you know if you saw last night’s game, is the ball movement. Every player on the team, including Tiago Splitter, is an above average passer. I’m not talking Ricky Rubio vision, just that all of them are able to take the ball and find the open man with relative ease.
Nobody on the entire team possesses a finer passing gene—from the unlikeliest of bodies—than Boris Diaw. The relationship he has with San Antonio’s offense is perfectly symbiotic. Diaw needs a ball movement heavy system around him. He needs on par basketball intelligence, with cutters and shooters that understand geometry. He needs for people to know what they’re trying to accomplish, so his under appreciated passes don’t go into the stands. Most importantly, Diaw needs space. He craves it. And when it appears, he makes the most of his opportunity.
For the Spurs, they needed Diaw for his size, sure. But the honest way he plays the game allows his teammates to trust him on offense. With only one “go-to” isolation move (the baseline spin into a reverse layup that opposing big men have yet to slow down), Diaw understands if something isn’t there he seeks a better shot for the team. He makes smart decisions when the basketball arrives in his hands, and it’s because of this that San Antonio’s pass happy offense thrives.
When I saw this play I instantly knew I wanted to write something about Boris Diaw. As Kawhi Leonard begins to drive baseline and into a trap, Diaw makes himself available by sliding back into open space right above the left elbow. When he receives Leonard’s perfect bounce pass, there’s nobody within six feet of his body. Flying towards the basket with complete control of everything, Diaw comes within a foot of the restricted area before he’s met by Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha, and instead of tossing up a floater—which is an option probably 95% of players in his situation would select—he throws a perfect no look pass to a wide open Danny Green in the weak side corner. Everything that happens in this play just about sums up how remarkable Diaw is for/on this basketball team.
In the last clip, Diaw uses space created by Leonard to reward Green. Here, he takes advantage of Oklahoma City’s defense collapsing on a driving Tim Duncan by standing just behind the three-point line and knocking down a wide open shot.
It’s tough for me to write this, but all of this is Kendrick Perkins’ fault. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are running a pick and roll on the left side of the court, and it’s defended by Russell Westbrook and Perkins. After setting the screen and rolling towards the basket, Duncan catches a bounce pass with no Thunder players within arm’s length. On this play, Perkins was too slow on his rotation, and the result was Serge Ibaka having to help at the foul line (far away from his man, Boris Diaw), and an eventual wide open shot.
This play occurs less than a minute after the open three-pointer, and clearly Ibaka still has that shot on his mind. One more time Diaw receives the ball with plenty of room to operate, and as all good basketball players do, he makes his move with no hesitation. As Ibaka confronts him, Diaw simply drives to the basket, scoring from the three-point line with three dribbles and a crafty reverse layup.
Whether Diaw is aided by the offense, or he’s helping make it go is besides the point. As long as he’s on the court, the Spurs are looking like an unstoppable basketball team.