Boris Diaw and the Big Man Market (Part 1)

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Editor’s Note: We understand that most of the players listed below are not available to the Spurs. This post is written from the perspective of evaluating the players who were available via buyout, and how they would have fit with the Spurs…hypothetically.  

Hello, all. It’s been a while. I’ve been waylaid for a bit by some real life drama and writer’s block, but I’ve returned all the same. For my return post to 48MoH, I’m going to do a series of two or three posts assessing the market the Spurs navigated before settling on Boris Diaw as compared to our current rotation of bigs, and assess where our newest acquisition might help us out. Or, conversely, where he might trip us up! I’ll start with the overall picture using some basic composite statistics and drill down into some offensive numbers and shooting trends for the players the Spurs had available to target. This is going to be a rather table-heavy data-driven post, so do be careful. Math is dangerous. Numbers bite, after all.

To start us off, I’ll lay out the bigs that I’ll be highlighting in this post. Obviously, we have our current rotation — our four table-stakes big men in Duncan, Splitter, Blair, and Bonner. Then we have the flotsam that had made it to market after the trade deadline once they’d been cut by their teams. This group included J.J. Hickson (cut from the Kings), Boris Diaw (cut from the Bobcats), Ronny Turiaf (cut from the Nuggets), and Ryan Hollins (cut from the Cavs). Ryan Hollins had numbers bad enough that I simply cut him from the analysis. He would’ve served only as comic relief. For the purposes of comparison, I also included the player that I’ve been getting asked to analyze on Twitter f0r several months now, Chris Kaman. Many Spurs fans have the impression that he would be a significant upgrade over any of these other options. I’m not convinced, and by adding him to the analysis, we may be able to disprove either my initial disagreement with that statement or the general sense that he’s our missing piece. These numbers are from this season for all players but Turiaf, for whom I used last season’s numbers due to the fact that he’d played only 4 games this season before suffering a broken hand. Here are the overall statistics.

The statistics I’ve shared in the overall big-picture table are: Minutes Per Game (MPG), Height (in feet and inches), POS (a flexible measure of position that allows for players to be in-between two positions — numbers from here), Number of Possessions (POSS — the number of possessions they’ve been on the court for), Offensive and Defensive adjusted +/- (O-D, ORTG, DRTG — taken from Basketball Value), Player Efficiency Rating (PER), and Win Shares (WS). I thought this was a pretty decent cocktail of stats to get us started. For the purposes of interpretation of statistics you haven’t seen before, I highly recommend this essential primer to what the various advanced stats mean. I’ll be explaining them a bit, but it’s always best to learn things from the source. And that primer is the best source anyone could give you if you’d like to learn about advanced basketball statistics.

Overall, there’s a good mix of stories here. Most interesting is perhaps Tim Duncan’s relatively poor performance on offense this year from a plus/minus perspective — essentially what that indicates is that when Tim is off the court, adjusting for opposition strength, the Spurs have almost a 7 point better offense than they do when he’s on it. Of course, even with Tim’s awful +/- numbers on offense, he’s still almost a net positive based on his defense alone — he has the 2nd highest defensive on-court impact of anyone in this table. He also plays the 2nd most minutes, and has the 2nd highest win share. All rather crazy for a 35 year old. But alas.

The biggest story to me is the lacking performance of all the available on-market options in most of the overall statistical metrics. While they’re mostly rating out as net positives on defense, each and every one of the available big men performs terribly on offense, and none of them excepting Kaman actually have the size that Spurs fans have been looking for. Despite Kaman’s size, though, both Boris Diaw and Ronny Turiaf have a higher on-court defensive impact than Kaman does. Defense will be the subject of a post in the next few days, and in that post I’ll dive behind the +/- and start to come to a conclusion as to why that is. But as it stands, none of the on-market options have an above average PER. And none but Turiaf have positive win shares. From an APM (adjusted plus minus) perspective, Diaw looks reasonably decent — certainly the best on average of all the options on the table. Will that hold up to different statistical measure, though?

Let’s examine the offense specifically through some overall stats.

The statistics I’ve shared in the offensive stats table are: true shooting percentage (shooting percentage adjusting for free throw percentage and the added value of three point shots), points per possession (the average points generated when that player uses a possession), assist percentage (the percentage of their teammate’s field goals that the given player assisted on while he was on the floor), turnover percentage (the percentage of their own possessions that end in a turnover), and usage percentage (the percentage of team plays used by a player while that player is on the floor). These were acquired on Basketball Reference, Basketball Value, and Evan Z’s EZPM Player Rating Spreadsheet.

It’s here that we begin to see why exactly these players were waived (and why Kaman was a candidate to be waived himself). Offensively, they’re a mess. While every Spur on this list scores at a high percentage and above league average (especially Duncan, whose per-minute stats are relatively sparkling), there’s very little that any of the other big men do well in the big picture offensively. Hickson, Diaw, and Kaman score inefficiently and well below league average, with Kaman in particular committing the cardinal sin of using almost 30% of his team’s possessions despite shooting well below league average and turning the ball over on more possessions than he assists it, even with his league average assist rate. (This is, by the way, the main reason I’ve been very down on the idea that Kaman would improve the Spurs. He’s been a possession vortex for his entire career, and his efficiency hasn’t gotten any better in the last few years. He’d be more likely to throw off our offensive flow with poor decisionmaking and ill-advised shots than he would be to provide that elusive third big guy behind Tim and Tiago. But that’s neither here nor there.)

In the case of Diaw, he’s offensively very similar to Kaman, which worries me. He’s less of a possession vortex, which will be helpful, but he hasn’t shown much propensity to really capitalize on the possessions he gets since Steve Nash was around. He’s been a turnover magnet this year, and while he’ll be a willing distributor when he gets the ball, it’s hard to really see that being a useful skill on our current Spurs team. Parker, Manu, Duncan, and Neal have served admirably as ball-dominant creators — are we really going to want to put the ball in Boris Diaw’s hands and let him create for the team? It’s not a useless skill, obviously — Diaw’s assist rate is by far the highest among any big man in the league today, and under Pop’s offensive playbook, there’s no way anyone would argue that it’s not going to help the Spurs in one way or another. But I’m not sold on it being a dealbreaking skill, especially when coupled with a turnover every 5 possessions and 46.1% true shooting. Not exactly confidence inspiring numbers.

But what makes up that 46% shooting from our new benched center? Well, let’s look at some locational shooting data.

This is where things get a bit interesting, and where Diaw’s possible value comes into play. As you may have noticed in the first table, Diaw isn’t the tallest large forward. He’s 6’8″, clocking him in at a full one inch over DeJuan Blair. Ideally, then, we’d hope that we could play some minutes with Diaw spotting out to the midrange and allow him to space the floor in lineups featuring Splitter at center. His career numbers (and this season’s numbers) would seem to indicate the Spurs will be able to do that. He doesn’t have a legitimate three point shot (which is fine — I don’t think anyone really wants a second Bonner on the team) but he can bury a 16 foot extended jump shot. Given that, we can expect that he’ll be able to play the role of floor spacing big to allow the offense to flow better. If I had to guess, I’d assume this is one of the reasons we picked him up — maintaining spacing is incredibly important to the Spurs offense, and any player that can continue to improve and solidify that spacing is a player that can continue to improve San Antonio’s odds of a deep playoff run.

On the other hand, Diaw isn’t fantastic at the rim, and he really doesn’t have a shot in the “true” midrange at all. This is an aspect where Kaman could’ve helped, a touch — though it’s certainly under debate, given that he’d be such an incredible liability with his back to the basket and at the rim. Shooting 51% at the rim is bad — coupling that with almost 4 shots in that range a game? That’s — again — a player that clogs the offense. Perhaps Pop would’ve been able to get Kaman to abandon his bad habits. But is that something the Spurs really want to test out? I’m not sure. There’s no one right or wrong answer to it. On the other hand, J.J. Hickson again looks absolutely abhorrent, and Pop’s crack at the reporter a few weeks back who mentioned “Tiago’s shot” was rather well warranted, as we all already knew. Tiago doesn’t shoot outside of 6 feet with any regularity, and when he does, it rarely ends well. Ronny Turiaf used remarkably few possessions to do his work, but did it well and finished plays with aplomb. While Turiaf is generally known as a heart-and-hustle type, his general game is far more refined when healthy than most people give him credit for. He’s an excellent finisher and can convert around the basket with the best of them. And unlike players like Kaman and Diaw who hog the ball and use far too many possessions for their own good, Turiaf is perfectly fine playing a complementary role to the team’s main offensive cogs — his usage rate ranked 428th out of 452 eligible players in 2011. Given the current offensive flow, it could be argued that a player who doesn’t hog possessions would’ve been the best get for the Spurs right now.

By most offensive measures, that argument has legs. Does it apply to defense? That’s another story.

• • •

Having passed the generally respectful “this post is over 1800 words, let’s wrap it up” point, I will save the defensive stats for this weekend and throughout next week as I finish this set of posts and give a bit more insight into our foray into the big man market. Have a good weekend, everybody. Glad to be back.

  • Joedelarios

    As you probably already know, Turiaf is off the market

  • GMT

    Didn’t Hickson get picked up as well?

  • Aaron McGuire

    Yep. Actually, all of them are — Portland got Hickson, Miami got Turiaf, New Orleans kept Kaman, and reports are that San Antonio got Diaw. I actually started gathering the stats / writing this before any of them came off the market, though, so I figured I’d keep them in as something of a retrospective.

  • http://www.nba.com/spurs/?tmd=1 TheRealDirtyP1

    The Bonner haters are going to call BS on these stats.
    I don’t have a good feeling about Diaw, but who knows. It looks like hopefully Jackson has been revitalized, maybe coming to SA will have some effect on him. It’s a low risk chance, might as well go for it.

  • imwithstupid

    The problem with stats is that they don’t take into account any other factors. Jax was on a crappy team, he was the focus of the defense and was often double teamed, exact same thing with Diaw. He was a real hustler with Phoenix, but him in the right situation he would be again.

  • Hobson13

    Very interesting article.  One massively important X-factor is that it’s very difficult to know how a role player will perform with a completely new team/system/teammates.  We know what Diaw did (or didn’t do) with the Bobcats over the past few years, but how would his numbers been affected had he played for the Spurs, Bulls, Celtics, or any other top tier team with multiple playmakers?  How would his game changed had he only been asked to play good man-to-man defense, move the ball, and hit midrange shots (his 3 strengths) instead of carrying a larger load for a team with few playmakers?

    I submit that if Matt Bonner had played for the Bobcats and Boris Diaw the Spurs for the last 3 years, the statistics would be reversed and would soundly say that Boris Diaw is a better big than Bonner.  IMO, this is what happens when you place a role player on a bad team vs. on a good team.  They take on the nature of the team since they don’t have the abilities to rise above and change their environment (we know some “superstars” who can only carry teams so far).

    I don’t think Diaw is the best answer for the Spurs 5th big (Kaman is the best player out of everyone mentioned), but we are really only looking for a guy to come in and be the 4th or 5th best big on the team.  A motivated and in-shape Diaw can easily accomplish this.  Also, those of us who have watched Spurs ball for just the past 3-4 postseasons know we don’t want Bonner playing big minutes for any stretch of time.  The guy consistently produces nothing when it counts the most.

  • Jwill1919

    Wow, so you mean Blair isn’t awesome! And proven with statistical analysis nonetheless!!!

  • http://www.nba.com/spurs/?tmd=1 TheRealDirtyP1

    Lol. I’m really looking forward to Dejuan sagging off Dirk and letting him take 17 foot jumpers instead of drive to the basket tonight.
    Has anyone ever asked the question, when Dirk does the flamingo fadeaway, why not just punch him in the nuts once or twice? He’ll definitely think about that everytime thereafter.

  • http://www.nba.com/spurs/?tmd=1 TheRealDirtyP1

    I’d like to see the weight difference between his time in Phoenix and now. That dude was lean and cut in Phoenix. Not so sure he is still the runner that he was.

  • http://www.nba.com/spurs/?tmd=1 TheRealDirtyP1

    I would agree with you on this if it weren’t for the fact the Spurs just ended the Richard Jefferson experiment.
    Bonner has been successful because teams don’t do extend and get sucked in. When Bonner drives in, they’re like “holy $h1t! what is he doing! omg he just hit a 10 foot jumper! Get back on the 3 pt line ginger!”
    Matt should work with Gary Neal in the off season on pump fakes, dribbling, and resetting his feet. Right now Gary does it just as good as anyone in the game.

  • theghostofjh

    If Matt Bonner had the ability to take the ball off the dribble efficiently and dependably it would have already been done by the age of 31.

  • grego
  • theghostofjh

    Good post, and I agree. Diaw is an upgrade IF he he’s used to replace a good deal of Bonner’s minutes. But that’s the problem. Does anybody really think that Pop’s going to play Bonner less than 12 mpg.? I don’t think so. The love affair here is simply off the charts.

  • http://www.nba.com/spurs/?tmd=1 TheRealDirtyP1

    Oh I’m totally with you. When Bonner drives and then throws up a faux teardrop, I cringe. 
    I wonder if we set up a game with Matt and high school kids if Matt would actually take the ball to the rim?

  • theghostofjh

    “I’m really looking forward to Dejuan sagging off Dirk and letting him take 17 foot jumpers instead of drive to the basket tonight.”

    I hate to tell you but when Dirk is hitting those mid-range jumpers NOBODY in the league can stop it. He shoots almost as good when he’s guarded as when not. So let’s stop fooling ourselves. Nobody on our team can slow down Dirk when he has it going.

  • theghostofjh

    Yes. Portland.

  • grego

    He’s also going to take Blair’s minutes too. He has the potential (not likely with the time left) to be the 3rd big after Duncan/Splitter. 

  • http://www.nba.com/spurs/?tmd=1 TheRealDirtyP1

    Dude, I agree, my point is, Dejuan gives it to him without even challenging it, or he just sags off of him like Dirk can blow by him. I’m glad we have Jackson now, love the way he plays Dirk. NOONE plays Dirk like he does(I live in Dallas so I see just about every Mavs game…I’m pretty sure I know that noone can stop it when he’s on fwiw)

  • http://www.nba.com/spurs/?tmd=1 TheRealDirtyP1

    If Patty is able to get his paperwork in order, that’ll put the roster at 13. Who don’t you dress out? Anderson?

  • grego

    Joseph is in Austin. And Pop is likely going to give guys nights off, so that guy will not dress. 

  • http://www.nba.com/spurs/?tmd=1 TheRealDirtyP1

    I know that, I wasnt counting Joseph or Dawson. The roster once Mills is available is:
    Parker
    Duncan
    Blair
    Leonard
    Green
    Ginobili
    Neal
    Bonner
    Splitter
    Jackson
    Anderson
    Diaw
    Mills

    That makes 13. I was thinking Anderson would be #13. This is a good problem to have.

  • theghostofjh

    The point is he has the “potential” (if Pop can find a new, more fruitful lover) to put Bonner where he belongs: limited situational minutes.

  • theghostofjh

    He might be able to back them in sometimes if they’re short enough!

  • grego

    I wouldn’t bet on “limited situational” minutes unless you want to be disappointed. Until Bonner’s ability to provide spacing stops, he’ll get decent minutes. Regardless of my thoughts on Bonner, he’s going to still get good minutes paired with Duncan or Splitter. 

  • theghostofjh

    Fair enough, but remember, DJB does not always sag off, and sometimes does a decent job. Dirk’s a nightmare cover, and DeJuan’s 22 with plenty of room to improve. But yes, Jack & Leonard will help throw the kitchen sink at him. Occasionally we’ll be successful in disrupting his rhythm a bit. That’s all you can do. But with Dallas, the main goal is limiting those not named Dirk. 

  • theghostofjh

    I don’t bet on limited situational minutes, but it’s because of the love affair, not the spacing issue. We don’t need Bonner’s threat of a three at the 4-spot in the playoffs. His negatives outweigh the positives in this regard. Obviously Pop is a great coach, but IMO his favor toward Bonner in the playoffs is his main blind spot.

     

  • grego

    With Bonner and Diaw, they now have two guys that pair up with some size for Duncan and Splitter. I think Splitter will benefit the most from this deal. Yes, this would reduce Bonner’s minutes since he wouldn’t have to play the stretch guy with both Splitter and Duncan. However, he might still see solid minutes if Splitter’s playing time is allowed to go up. 

    Kawhi and Green benefit the most from RJ being gone. Not that Jackson isn’t too shabby off the bench either… 

  • http://www.nba.com/spurs/?tmd=1 TheRealDirtyP1

    Sometimes I forget how young he is.
    I know Dallas can’t recreate, in a 7 game series, what they did on Saturday against us. It was just a matter of time before the double teams started coming on Dirk, and Kidd lit it up. If Kidd misses a couple of those, he stops shooting. Roddy B is a big wild card as well. Did the Spurs mess up by letting Mahimni go?

  • theghostofjh

    ” I think Splitter will benefit the most from this deal.”

    Perhaps, but he really shouldn’t, other than the fact that Diaw is a better all-around support for Splitter than Bonner is, particularly in the playoffs. If the Spurs are smart, the main take away from this deal would be for Bonner to be the loser, and Diaw to be the winner (after all, winning and doing anything productive is better than dying in Charlotte).

  • STIJL

    You may be on to something.  This quote from the article made me take notice in retrospect to your thought…

    “In the case of Diaw, he’s offensively very similar to Kaman, which
    worries me. He’s less of a possession vortex, which will be helpful, but
    he hasn’t shown much propensity to really capitalize on the possessions
    he gets since Steve Nash was around.”Read more: http://www.48minutesofhell.com/boris-diaw-and-the-big-man-market-part-i#ixzz1pyavG9c6

    Would this mean Diaw may be able to capitalize on the offensive end given Parker, Ginobili, Jackson are good distributors and force attention away from players in the paint?  Of course Steve Nash is a master at distribution…but the Spurs have some talented distributors of their own which may help Diaw elevate his offensive prowess compared to being with Charlotte. (Which if you look at the numbers…Diaw provided a higher ppg average in Charlotte than he did in Phoenix)  But I digress…  being given a renewed lease on the NBA with one of his best friends and countryman just may be enough to escalate his positive numbers on offense and defense as well.I think he was either 1st or 2nd next to only Turiaf that made the best sense for the Spurs to sign out of the bought out bigs.

  • theghostofjh

    Regarding Mahinmi:

    Well, sometimes a good young player just isn’t a good fit with Pop. It happened with Ian, and at the rate we’re going, it could happen with Blair. Sometimes these types of moves could be considered mistakes, and other times not. With Mahinmi’s development this year, the jury’s still out on this one.

  • STIJL

    Agree with what you say.  And it will reduce to how fit and in shape Diaw plays on the team.  Don’t know if one can turn it around (or how long it would take)  from being over weight and unmotivated to being productive again.  Good points Hobson13.

  • STIJL

     It will be interesting to see who gets their minutes reduced…if any.  Diaw just may be too out of shape and lacking in “corporate knowledge” to take significant time away from anybody.

    But if he does…I wouldn’t mind who’s minutes he ends up taking as long as the results are Spur victories.

  • http://www.nba.com/spurs/?tmd=1 TheRealDirtyP1

    I think Mahimni was too raw in SA. He needed playing time, and there was no way he was going to get it. Dejuan came in pretty polished, he has moves.  Mahimni with the Mavs now is not the Mahimni we would see if he was still here. He’s actually turning into a good player.

  • Daniel T

     This year due to the lockout they made the rule that teams could suit up 13 players.  It seems that at first they were going to change it some weeks into the season, but it was left at 13.  They may have kept it that one of the 13 cannot play during the game, but you did not have to designate a player beforehand as being inactive.

  • Daniel T

     I’d think that they don’t necessarily change the minutes per game much, but the minutes per day.  Different players will likely sit out different games during the upcoming stretch, playing zero minutes and not even entering the game.

  • grego

    Now Pop can run with a big and a versatile forward. he previously couldn’t do that, which cut down Splitter’s minutes even when he was the next best big in games. That’s where he should see benefit. Both Bonner and Diaw can shoot, and that makes a huge difference. And Leonard is in a lot of units these days. 

  • theghostofjh

    What’s the advantage in minutes for Splitter to run with Diaw over Bonner? The similarities between the two (Diaw/Bonner) are significant, the differences not particularly meaningful, especially in terms of minutes for Splitter. Leonard helps no matter what tandem of bigs he plays with.

  • STIJL

     I know it’s after the Mav game but to respond to this…it would appear logical that Diaw is the player Pop can use depending on who is not having a good game.  Bonner was on fire…Blair was struggling to defend.  Insert Diaw in place of Blair for D and keep the red hot shooting of Bonner going.

    Consequently…I wouldn’t be surprised to see Diaw taking Bonner’s minutes in a game where Bonner is struggling and Blair is being productive.

    Then we just might not see (or very few minutes) of Diaw in a game if Bonner, Blair and Tiago are having success in that particular game.

    In other words…compared to just 2 games ago…Spurs have somewhat strengthened their depth in the post as long as all stay healthy.

  • theghostofjh

    Fine, but Bonner usually does not have games like he did against the Mavs (especially in the PLAYOFFS!!), and yet Pop has frequently played him extended minutes anyway. And THAT is the problem.