If you aren’t on board the Utah Jazz hype train already after their impressive summer, in which they added George Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw (while also having Dante Exum return), you might want to do so now. Sure, Gordon Hayward’s finger injury is a setback, but there are still plenty of reasons to like this team’s potential.
One of those reasons is Mr. Boris Diaw, the passionate coffee lover and cool, calm, collected player we enjoyed watching for many years with the San Antonio Spurs. He won a championship with them in 2014 and served as the ideal Spurs role player for just over four seasons, willingly bringing his veteran IQ, exquisite passing, post play and character off the bench.
Now the Jazz get to enjoy all those things, and they won’t have to wait long to see everything come to fruition.
Diaw may not be as athletic as he was in his younger days (you might be surprised just how athletic he was if you haven’t seen footage of him), and he isn’t exactly the leanest guy on the court, but don’t underestimate how simultaneously smooth and strong he is.
He’s an ideal fit for the Jazz. Joining the frontcourt of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, Diaw has a great combination of passing and shooting to bring a dynamic off the bench that Favors and Gobert can’t provide.
Neither can pass like Diaw can. He averaged 4.6 assists per 36 minutes last season and recorded an assist percentage of 18.4; not bad for a big man who wasn’t a focal point of the Spurs’ offense, and both numbers are more than double that of Favors and Gobert. Combined with the simple eye test of watching him play, and it isn’t hard to see just how rare Diaw’s passing style (and talent) is for a man his size.
Diaw also ranked 22nd in the NBA among all forwards who made at least 30 passes per game last season in assist-to-pass percentage, with 7.7 percent of his passes being assists. That number was impressively close to stars like Blake Griffin (8.1) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (8.7).
Again, for a backup who played in an offense where the ball was always moving, that says a lot about how Diaw reads the floor and finds good looks for his teammates in limited playing time. And seeing as the Jazz have no big man of that nature, Diaw’s value and fit is even better as he dishes from the top of the key or the low block.
Just look at this pass he made in one of the Jazz’s preseason games against the Portland Trail Blazers. While dribbling down the lane, Diaw didn’t even glance over at the wide-open Joe Ingles to hint to defenders that he may make the pass. Diaw knew where his man was and executed a wrap-around pass across two defenders to perfectly fire the ball to Ingles in a fashion that you just don’t see from big men:
Unfortunately, Ingles missed the shot, but still, the pass was a pretty one, and it’s something Diaw is always capable of.
Having that kind of player to help the second unit and shoulder some of the playmaking workload is a great attribute for the Jazz. Such a skill set coming in the beloved package of Boris, an extremely experienced veteran with Spurs-level class, makes his arrival that much more beneficial to this young team.
Diaw also benefits the Jazz’s offense by adding spacing to their frontcourt along with the up-and-coming talent of sophomore big man Trey Lyles, who made 1.3 threes per 36 minutes last season at a 38.3 percent rate. Lyles has a solid three-point shot and stroke from mid-range (40.3 percent from at least 16 feet out), but there was only so much he could as that perimeter threat behind the duo of Favors and Gobert, a pair that attempted four threes and made zero last season.
Diaw is no three-point marksman. It’s not his best shot, and it won’t be ideal to see him stepping out from that range too often. But, as we’ve seen already when he started alongside Gobert in the Jazz’s last preseason game against the Clippers, Diaw can help draw defenders away from Gobert inside. Diaw only attempted a mere 1.8 threes per 36 minutes last year, though he wasn’t required to take many and still hit them at a 36.2 percent rate, also making a reliable 41.4 percent of his shots from 16-plus feet out.
He’s a threat from distance, and any added presence from that range helps when Favors or Gobert are in at center. Any extra space for Gobert to make a post move inside or roll to the basket is good, not to mention the possibility of combining in the pick-and-roll with Diaw himself as the ball handler.
Where is Diaw at his best, though? In the post. He’s incredibly effective with his back to the basket, and he adds yet another dynamic to the Jazz’s second unit in this regard. Diaw finds even more success being able to force opponents away from doubling him as well, due to such accurate passing to find the open man.
In fact, his efficiency is so great that it’s almost hard to believe at times. He was in the 91st percentile last season when it comes to post-up play. Out of the 66 players who made at least 30 post-up field goals, Diaw ranked third in the NBA on post-ups with 1.05 points per possession and led the league in field goal percentage from the post at 62.8 (yes, first!).
He had quantity, too, making 91 such field goals to rank 17th among all players, an even more impressive feat seeing as Diaw only played 18.2 minutes per game.
Being used as a go-to option for the bench at times is something the Jazz can be excited about.
He knows how to fake his opponents and how to move his feet and finish softly after creating space to score, and his turnaround jumper is smoother than his favorite espresso. That shot is also part of the reason he shot 54.7 percent from three to nine feet.
That shot, more affectionately known as “The Cream Shake,” named as a Diaw-y play on Hakeem Olajuwon’s “Dream Shake,” is simply incredibly hard to stop:
Whether Diaw is doing the scoring himself or maybe even teaching Gobert a move or two, the passing and shooting from the post will be appreciated by Utah. He can serve as an interior, playmaking element to help anchor the backup perimeter scoring of the likes of Joe Johnson and Alec Burks, and that’s not easy to find in an affordable veteran role player.
Boris Diaw is the kind of player that’s so easy to root for, and he’s one that any NBA team would love to have. From locker room coffee breaks to character and talent, there are plenty of reasons to be a fan.
He fits well in Utah and addresses what they need, and you won’t need to watch for long to be convinced of that.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com.