Serge Ibaka probably won’t pay as much attention to Boris Diaw as he probably should. Ibaka has good reason to venture off to help his Thunder teammates, though. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are both adept at beating the first line of attack and attracting defenders on their persistent forays to the rim, opening up passing lanes and setting up efficient shot attempts, particular of the corner 3-pointer variety. Tim Duncan’s resurgence during the playoffs also demands immediate defensive attention. Even Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard are legitimate threats to cut towards the rim from the weak side or knock down the corner 3-pointer (Green and Leonard shoot better than 45% from the corner).
For the Thunder to effectively contain the behemoth that is the Spurs offense, Ibaka must be helping on shooters, cutters, slahers and down in the low block. His presence is a necessity. Hence my assumption that he will be matched up with Diaw for the majority of the Western Conference Finals. Defending Diaw doesn’t require his 100% attention and Kendrick Perkins’ physicality could hamper Duncan’s post game.
Diaw isn’t the most athletic starter, in fact he probably has the least athleticism of the group. He isn’t an elite perimeter shooter although Diaw shot 61.5% from behind the arc in a 20-game sample size with San Antonio. Diaw isn’t a guy that can be trusted down in the low block to score against most big man.
Diaw can create for others, though. He is actually decidedly above-average in this regard. Diaw assisted on 23.8% of possessions, a number that is remarkably high for a power forward. He averaged 4.2 assists per 36 minutes, good for third on the Spurs. Only Ginobili and Parker bested that level of passing efficiency.
Where Diaw’s passing proficiency is especially valuable is in the pick-and-roll, an intricate tenet of the Spurs’ offensive philosophy. As a Spur, Diaw averaged 1.08 points per possession which put him 37th in the NBA. That level of efficiency, remarkably, was actually lower than DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter’s PPP on pick-and-rolls. Just a guess but the Spurs will probably accept his production nonetheless.
Unlike most big man, though, Diaw’s passing is conducive to more options for the Spurs offense, a facet of his game that Gregg Popovich absolutely loves. Rather than simply cutting towards the hoop, receiving the pass and finishing, the threat of another pass was omnipresent. “BoBo” seemingly racked up more hockey assists in 20 games with San Antonio than most guys had all season. That threat is valid because, well, Diaw can make just about any pass you ask him to including passes that are difficult for some point guards. Therein lies the subtle value. Their options were considerably lower with Blair as the roll man on the pick-and-roll.
His resurgence probably explains Blair logging 49 minutes in the postseason, only three minutes of which came against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Without a proper middle man — and Diaw is the perfect middle man — the Spurs offense can be stagnant and their patented offensive flow would be halted. Blair’s only redeemable offensive contribution was in his offensive rebounding and pick-and-roll game. When opposing teams limited his offensive rebounding opportunities and trapped Parker to prevent his passing angles, Blair was rendered essentially useless. Diaw isn’t ever useless. Now that he is comfortable in the Spurs offense — a transition that was seamless given his basketball acumen and instantaneous rapport with his teammates — Ginobili and Parker know that when they get into a bind they can find Diaw as an effective safety valve.
From there the options are limitless. He is more than capable of knocking down the open shot, penetrating into the lane as a guard would or finding the open man spotting up or feeding the open cutter. If everything fails, he can pass to Tim Duncan in the post as an absolute last resort.
Well, maybe Ibaka does have his work cut out for him. Go figure.