It’s the dog days of the NBA season and, I have to admit, I’ve been struggling to come up with thoughts about basketball that are deeper than a 140-character tweet. I don’t have that much to say about the Jarrett Jack signing (great fit!) or the Lamar Odom negotiations (get something done!). Based on my previous post about the Magic, you should be able to deduce my feelings on the return of Marcin Gortat (yay!). There is one free agent, though, that I feel I absolutely must talk about here, in a bit of detail.
His name is Ikechukwa Somotochukwa Diogu.
Ike is a 6’8 power forward with a wingspan of almost 7’4 that has, after four years in the league, never been given a significant role on a team. He was taken with the 9th pick in the 2005 draft by the Golden State Warriors, but has since bounced around the NBA, with stints in Indiana, Portland, and Sacramento.
In his rookie season, he played 69 games at almost 15 minutes a game, numbers almost identical to those of teammate Andris Biedrins, whilst holding down SLAM’s Rookie Diary. The next season, Biedrins more than doubled his minutes, while Ike toiled away until being traded to Indiana with Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy Jr. In subsequent seasons with the Pacers, Blazers, and Kings, Diogu has failed to duplicated the same games played and average minute totals that he did in his rookie campaign and Biedrins has solidified his spot as the Warriors’ starting center.
So, why is he relevant? Why should anybody care about Ike Diogu? Well, I’m going to completely rip off the great Kelly Dwyer here and stress the importance of per-minute stats, pace-adjusted stats. Look at his PER, his TS%, and his rebound rate. Look at all of his advanced stats and compare them to those of Paul Millsap. Even though he hasn’t played a ton of minutes in his career, he’s been quite effective when he’s been on the court. It’s the same story with Marcin Gortat, who recently received a five-year, $34 million contract. So, what’s the difference between Gortat and Diogu? I say it’s partially because Gortat plays center and there is a real scarcity of quality centers in the league, but it’s also because Gortat played his 11-12 good minutes a game all the way through to the NBA Finals this past season. Some people knew about Gortat before the playoffs started, but a lot more people became interested in him in May and June. I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest that if Diogu had been a contributor on a team that advanced in the off-season, his off-season would be markedly different.
In this very tongue-in-cheek post on superb Kings blog Sactown Royalty, they said that, after his two great games to end the season, we are all entitled to call Kenny Natt, Mike Montgomery, Don Nelson, Jim O’Brien and Nate McMillan idiots, as well as Chris Mullin, Donnie Walsh, Larry Bird and Kevin Pritchard. I’m not going to go that far, as Ike did find himself stuck behind proven players at the power forward position for most of his time in the league, but you really have to think he would have been given more of a chance by now. It is, after all, a General Manager’s job to find these diamonds in the rough, guys who have played effectively in half of a meaningless game in March, guys who can help your team at a reduced price. GM’s are not supposed to be easily seduced by players who get extra national television time in the postseason. They know that even though there are no certainties in this game, young players who have good per-minute stats tend to be able to sustain them when given more time on the court.
It should come as no surprise, reading this, that I was more than a little excited to read about my hometown Raptors possibly having interest in Diogu. The fact that the Kings have not had any contract talks with Diogu after declining his qualifying offer would not sit well for me if I was a Kings fan, particularly as the team is in dire need of frontcourt help. I’m predicting here that the Kings will regret this decision, Diogu will eventually find a home, and casual NBA fans might even get to know his name. If he goes on to have a productive season, tell all your friends that you heard it here first. If he remains glued to the bench, well… you can forget I said anything.
Here’s hoping you get your shot soon, Ike. Preferably in Toronto.