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12:00 AM ET, 5/29/06

Diop has finally lived up to his potential

Posted by Chris Mannix
DeSagana Diop
The Mavs won't get much offense out of DeSagana Diop, but defensively, he's been as advertised.
Lisa Blumenfeld/NBAE via Getty Images
In every series there are the obvious storylines and the Dallas-Phoenix series is no different. You have the ex-Maverick (Steve Nash) returning to silence his former team. You have the maligned superstar (Dirk Nowitzki) aiming to shed the asterisk attached to the term "franchise player" that follows his name. You have the smaller subplots, the energetic youngster (Devin Harris) or the wily old veteran (Jerry Stackhouse). You have the emerging enforcer (Raja Bell) and the resurrected star (Tim Thomas).

But really, is there any better storyline than DeSagana Diop?

We all know Diop's story. His career was on life support when he was labeled persona non grata in Cleveland after last season and the Mavericks raised eyebrows when they signed him to a 3-year, $6.5 million contract in the offseason. The oft-overweight Diop shed 30 pounds over the summer and came to camp in shape and ready to be the type of player scouts anticipated he would be: a powerful shot-blocker with unlimited defensive potential.

He became just that, starting 45 games for the Mavericks (his previous career total was five) and establishing himself as a feared defensive presence. That money the pundits claimed Dallas was wasting? Well, Diop has gone toe-to-toe with Pau Gasol and Tim Duncan and guess who is still standing?

Diop wasn't supposed to play against Phoenix. He was supposed to carve out for himself a nice spot on the bench -- preferably one right beside Erick Dampier -- just so Avery Johnson doesn't have to look far if he needs some help assisting an injured player to the locker room (you ever wonder who chooses those guys? You never see Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce doing the human crutch thing with a teammate. On the other hand a guy like Wang Zhi-Zhi practically qualifies as a med student).

This series Diop has been as advertised: he has forced, by one reporter's count, a half dozen shot adjustments and is a walking discouragement (3 blocks) for Phoenix's slashers to make their way down the lane. Sure, he's, well, offensively challenged. But in a lineup that boasts six players capable of scoring 20 or more points, Diop's offense becomes a disposable commodity. "I know why I'm in there," Diop told SI earlier this season. "Rebound. Defend. Block shots. You see how many scorers we have? Why would they need me to do more than that?"

There's another reason to like Diop. Spin it forward for a moment and assume Dallas holds off the Suns and advances. Detroit has a rotating arsenal of solid bigs and Miami still has one Shaquille O'Neal playing in South Beach. Regardless of who comes out of the East, interior defense will be a hot commodity.

That's Diop's calling card. That's about the only thing he can do.

I'll ask you: am I overrating Diop, whose bandwagon I have been riding since he stepped into the Mavericks starting lineup earlier this year? Is he an effective player? Or are we witnessing the emergence of the next Ike Austin?


Posted: 12:36 AM   by Anonymous
The NBA needs more guys like Diop who are content to be defensive role players. That formula has certainly worked in the past with guys like Rodman. Detroit's Ben Wallace is the ultimate example of how effective this strategy can be. That being said, there seem to be only two qualifications for being this type of "valuable" player: 1) you have to have the size and 2) you have to shed your ego. If you have these attributes, ANYONE can be the next Diop or Ben Wallace. It certainly does not take remarkable skill or talent, like it does to be a great scorer or point guard.
Posted: 12:49 AM   by Anonymous
I have been an avid fan of the Mavs for years now, and Diop is what I have been hoping and praying for. Truer words have never been spoken."Rebound.Defend Block shots.Why would they need me to do anything else."Damn right.
Posted: 12:56 AM   by DemoCat
For Dallasites, it's bitter - seeing Damp finally keeping his mouth shut (ala I'm the second best center in the league etc etc), but yet knowing that salary could be going somewhere, anywhere else is difficult to see. Either way, we'll take Diop and all the Ws through this series, thanks.
Posted: 1:01 AM   by Anonymous
Chris!!! Finally, someone sees the light! Put a legitimate big man against a gimmick lineup of midgets and they can't score with any consistency. No more layup drills for Phoenix. Count 'em, 16 3rd quarter points and they're lost.

Start Dampier to win the opening tip. Maybe even a hard foul on Marion when he goes for (big secret) the lob over the top that the Suns run every opening play. You can bring Diop off the bench whenever you want to make Mike Dan Tony squirm.
Posted: 1:10 AM   by Anonymous
He's the 'unsung hero' in the series with the Spurs because of how he played Tim.However, I don't think he will fair against the most dominant player in the game..Big Daddy Shaq. But that is left to be proven!!!
Posted: 1:24 AM   by Anonymous
As a Mavs fan, I'd be afraid of the Heat if it wasn't for Diop. If it comes down to a Mavs-Heat final, Shaq will humiliate Dampier. Shaq knows it. Damp knows it. Diop doesn't know about this whole intimidated-by-the-superstar-center thing. I don't know why...he just doesn't.
Posted: 2:14 AM   by Anonymous
Who say's Diop did a great defensive stop on Tim? cant you see Duncan's number in the playoff againts?
Posted: 2:30 AM   by Anonymous
Go watch the OT from Game 7 again.
Diop won't be any help against O'Neal, except inasmuch as he has six fouls to give. Shot blockers have never given Shaq problems, the only way the Diesel is EVER slowed down is when he is in foul trouble, which only happens when he is matched against other great offensive bigs (Hakeem, 'Zo in his prime and Tim Duncan, most notably) or against frustrating defenders who use their hands to strip the ball and their feet to pick up charges (Karl Malone, Vlade Divac, and, again, Hakeem). Diop is a pure shot blocker, and Shaq eats those guys up (drop step, pump fake, slam, and 1).
Posted: 7:30 AM   by rob_banks
Diop's quickness and blocking ability is just what Dallas needed at center. He's also kept Dampier hustling to keep himself from being permanently relegated to the bench.

How about this for a quiet stat that no one's noticed: Diop was 4th in the league in blocks per 48 and Damp was 3rd in rebounds per 48. Making this tag- team center work so well is a prime example of why Avery deserves his Coach of the Year status.
Posted: 9:40 AM   by Anonymous
I think you are right about Diop, however I think you may have overlooked Dampier's effect on the team. In other the series, Damp is the more physical force down-low and a better post defender. Diop is the better weakside shot blocker and help defender. In a more traditional series (SA,Detroit/Miami) they make a good one-two punch at the 5 spot for the Mavs. Dampier wears them down and Diop takes care of the rest. Overall Diop is an unbelievable value from the free agent market and still young enough that his true potential has not yet been realized.
Posted: 9:45 AM   by Anonymous
1 for 7 with at least one turnover for Duncan to close out game 7 with Diop on him. That's not too bad, especially while playing with a broken nose.
Big Daddy Shaq, as he was referenced is not the most dominating player in the league anymore. He still puts up great numbers, but his impact on the game isn't what it was. For a guy like Diop, an O'Neal is easier to cover than Diaw or Duncan, because O'Neals threat goes away once he's more than five feet from the basket.

And as for the guy who doesn't realize what a great stop on a guy like Duncan is, it is this. When the Spurs are have to have a bucket the ball goes into Tim, and in that instance if you stop Duncan it is a great defensive night on Tim, even if he has forty points. Guys like him will get their points, but if you can get that stop with the game on the line it makes all the difference in the world. Duncan had great numbers all series, but he didn't move on because the Mavs finally had someone who could step up to him.
Posted: 11:25 AM   by YoAdrian
It is somewhat remarkable to think Diop went from another high school to NBA washout to unsung hero in one short season. Perhaps a better tag would be "from washout to EXTREMELY overrated" in a season. I have to wonder if any of you who claim Diop is good have actually watched the playoffs this year. He did little to nothing to help the Mavs. Stop Duncan? Not. Slow Duncan, Not? Play on a better team with deep young talent? Yes! He is not even as good as Greg Oaftertag when the Jazz went to the finals in 97' and 98'. Get a clue, this guy is still NO GOOD. Ask Kobe, I'm sure he doesn't even know this kid.
Posted: 12:08 PM   by Anonymous
"D"iop. "D"irk. "D"evin. "D"ampier. There's plenty of "D" in Big "D"! Thank you Avery & Mark!

Posted: 12:25 PM   by Anonymous
Yep, I saw Duncan's numbers. I also saw Diop shut him down at the end of games. Diop is a great rotation center. Think about this against either Eastern team. We will be able to roll out Dampier, Diop, and don't forget DJ Mbenga. That is 18 fouls to give and 3 big bodies that can bang with the other big men.
Posted: 1:17 PM   by The Exalted
the next ike austin is a compliment?

talk about damning with faint praise
Posted: 1:44 PM   by Anonymous
I'm a Cavs fan and I can tell you that Diop is a walking mistake. He's big. That's about the only thing he's good for. He is the posterchild of what can happen when a player with potential goes from high school to the NBA. Lebron, Kobe, and Garnett made the jump, but they can score. Diop has zero offensive effectiveness. He makes careless mistakes and stupid fouls. Chris, you are definitely overrating Diop. He is very fortunate that he is on an already great Mavs team. He was terrible in Cleveland for a reason. Do you think he just got magical talent overnight? I think not.
Posted: 1:54 PM   by Anonymous
to the guy who argues Diop didn't stop Duncan... It was Diop's TIMELY stops against Tim that allowed the MAvs to get past the Spurs. In the two overtime periods, Diop came up with consecutive stops against the Big Fundamental that allowed the Mavs to pull ahead. Sure Duncan got his numbers, but when it mattered most, Diop came up with huge defensive efforts that are a big reason for the Mavs continued success.
Posted: 1:13 AM   by Anonymous
Diop needs to develop his post game, for him and his team to be successfull against team with notable bigs like the Heat (Shaq) or Spurs (Tim). He needs to have these guys work at both ends especially facing Shaq. You can only slow Shaq down if he's in foul trouble and to achieve that is to be an offensive threat.