A Utah Jazz offseason that has already seen the team pick up veterans George Hill and Joe Johnson just added some international flavor in Boris Diaw.
Tuesday, Utah took advantage of the San Antonio Spurs’ need to create cap space for Pau Gasol by trading the draft rights to 2015 second-round pick Olivier Hanlan for the 2006 Most Improved Player and 2014 NBA champion from France.
When news of the San Antonio’s need to shed Boris Diaw’s salary hit the web, Jazz writers from several outlets started wondering about the possibility of acquiring him. Just 24 hours later, Diaw is a member of the Jazz for next to nothing (no slight to Hanlan, he just didn’t play in the NBA last season).
This is a no-risk, high-reward move for Utah. Diaw comes to the Jazz with nearly 3,000 playoff minutes, a championship ring and a contract that fits under the salary cap for 2016-17 and is unguaranteed for 2017-18. If Utah has any reason it wants to shed his salary next summer, it can simply cut him before July 15.
On the court, Diaw could be the last piece of a puzzle that is ultimately the picture of versatility. All over the roster, Utah has guys who can play multiple positions and do things traditionally uncharacteristic for their positions. The only thing Utah was missing was a stretch 5, the kind of player who would make it possible for the Jazz to play lineups with five shooters. Diaw has the potential to be that stretch/playmaking 5 in small-ball lineups, a la Draymond Green.
At 6’8″, Diaw doesn’t have ideal size for that position, but he played there occasionally for the Spurs and is better with the ball on the perimeter than any other Jazz big. In fact, he’s better on the perimeter than most of the NBA’s bigs.
The sample size isn’t big, but Diaw was in the 88th percentile last season for points scored per possession in isolations. And his career assist percentage is better than Green’s:
The above comparison may not be entirely fair to Green, who wasn’t unleashed until Steve Kerr replaced Mark Jackson for Golden State, but it helps to show the versatility of Diaw.
In his piece grading the deal for ESPN, Kevin Pelton wrote:
Besides being a 3-point threat, Diaw is probably the best passer on the Jazz’s roster. Not best passing big man — best passer, period. I’m excited to see how his addition boosts a Utah offense that throws more passes per possession than any other team in the league.
Utah can now add variety to a pick-and-roll game that was sometimes one-dimensional with traditional bigs like Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors.
With Diaw setting the screen, the Jazz have a player who can pop out to the three-point line or catch the ball on the move and either finish or find an open man.
Small-ball combinations in the mold of the Warriors’ infamous “Death Lineup” are now in play. Something along the lines of Dante Exum (6’6″), Rodney Hood (6’8″), Gordon Hayward (6’8″), Joe Johnson (6’7″) and Diaw (6’8″) may not be able to play a ton of minutes, but it would be fast, versatile and loaded with shooting.
And off the floor, this figures to be a seamless fit as well. Diaw is going from one solid locker room to another and already has a friend in his teammate with the French national team, Rudy Gobert:
— Boris Diaw (@theborisdiaw) July 5, 2016
To get a proven big man who can play multiple positions, do a little bit of everything on the floor and fits the culture for nothing is a massive win for the Jazz.
And this offseason, those Ws are really adding up.
Andy Bailey is on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.