DeJuan Blair’s journey from unheralded rookie to unappreciated “big”

April 26, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; San Antonio Spurs center DeJuan Blair (45) instructs his team to hold the ball after securing an offensive rebound against the Golden State Warriors in the fourth quarter at ORACLE Arena. The Spurs defeated the Warriors 107-101. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE

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DeJuan Blair is a polarizing figure — at least in my opinion. I gravitate toward his attitude, the way he plays the game and his success in the NBA despite A) his height disadvantage and, amazingly, B) the fact that he has no ACL’s. In a league that hinges on athleticism, it’s utterly incredible that he’s played without two ligaments that would have otherwise alleviated the stress of a NBA lifestyle.

Yet I also detest his flaws — namely his defensive ineptitude and, to a lesser extent, his inability to score outside of pick-and-rolls. Even though I’ve voiced my frustrations over Blair many times over, I still can’t imagine myself handling his situation as well. He’s started about two-thirds of his career and still found his way to the bottom of the depth chart, behind less acclaimed Spurs like Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter.

And he still approaches his position professionally. (Do I need to remind you that he’s only 23?) He poured out a couple of nice quotes in Mike Monroe’s piece last night for the San Antonio Express News:

    “It definitely made me stronger, but it definitely kept my head down. It happened the last two years. I really     don’t know what’s going on. It messes my head up. It’s tough. Boris came and was a better fit. At the same     time, I stayed positive and had a great attitude and kept going and had a lot of class. I grew up a lot.”

Boris Diaw was, simply, the better player. He wasn’t a liability defensively and he added tangible offensive value. That meant that Blair was out. Basketball is sometimes that simple. But what I keep coming back to, since I find it highly unlikely that Blair stays with San Antonio beyond this season, is his most productive season to date — his rookie year.

Blair grabbed 12.7 rebounds per 36 minutes which led the team. His rebounding proficiency was at an all-time high, as he grabbed 20.6% of the Spurs’ rebounds while he was on the floor, and he wasn’t quite the black hole defensively as he is currently.

Fast forward to this season: where Blair’s game has deteriorated incrementally. His defensive rebounding dropped off and his (still) elite offensive rebounding prowess nosedived. Blair morphed into a shell of his former self, rendered to pick-and-rolls and mop-up duty. It was apparent that Gregg Popovich found other, more productive options.

(A statistical aside: San Antonio was 10.2 points per 100 possessions worse with Blair on the floor last season. What this means: they were an average offensive team and an above-average defensive team with Blair. Eliminate his prescence and, suddenly, the Spurs are an elite team — on both ends of the court. Also, Blair posted the worst adjusted plus/minus numbers of any Spur for the last two years. Yikes.)

Blair realized this and ultimately accepted his fate. I have to give him credit for that.

    “The Spurs are excellent. They used me to get everybody going and just get to the playoffs. That’s what it’s     seemed like the last two seasons. But it’s a business, and everybody has their role, and I played mine,     obviously, in the season. That’s proved right now.”

Blair is done in San Antonio. But that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate his brief tenure in San Antonio without constantly highlighting his flaws.

He deserves that after all.

Topics: DeJuan Blair, San Antonio Spurs

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