The Charlotte Bobcats must really be kicking themselves right now.
During the 2011-12 season, their roster held Boris Diaw, a veteran power forward with perhaps the most versatile skill set at his position.
Fast-forward nearly two years, and the multifaceted Diaw—after being waived by Charlotte—is now enjoying an incredible campaign as a member of the San Antonio Spurs.
That said, his success is often overshadowed due to the team's deep and talented roster.
Even so, the once-waived Diaw has sneakily become the team's most underrated contributor, and one of the league's most productive role players.
With the postseason rapidly approaching, he'll enter as San Antonio's secret weapon, having flown under the radar thus far.
The Ultimate Role Player
Looking solely at his stats, Diaw is anything but a top-notch contributor. His totals are fairly low, at least at first look.
However, when pinpointing his true value, it is necessary to first grasp his role in the system.
Diaw is no superstar. He isn't the best scorer, shooter, passer, perimeter defender or shot-blocker. He isn't the team's go-to guy in the clutch nor should he be viewed as their best bench-scoring spark.
Rather, his role embodies each of these aforementioned traits, and then some.
As noted, Diaw's claim to fame is his incredibly unique skill set, which encompasses a versatile scoring attack, the passing ability of a point guard and a sneaky-good defensive regimen that has become inexplicably useful against even the most talented of opponents.
Because he can produce in virtually any situation, Diaw is tasked with filling in wherever the team needs assistance on a given night.
This role, though broad, has become the very thing that has kept Diaw relevant and underrated.
When Kawhi Leonard went down, Diaw stepped up and contributed as a wing, defending small forwards and filling in for Leonard along the perimeter.
When Tiago Splitter was sidelined with an injury, his rebounding, post defense and inside scoring fell upon the shoulders of the team's second-best Frenchman.
On a more specific basis, Diaw has filled every role from big man to orchestrator depending on the moment.
Since he doesn't have the ability to establish himself as an expert in any particular field—as three-point shooters like Danny Green have succeeded in doing—Diaw is often not given the credit he deserves.
Still, the way in which he can adapt and contribute successfully deserves endless praise from his teammates, coaches and fans.
Within the San Antonio system, Diaw has perhaps experienced the most intense pressure of any backup.
Though the team is often praised for its incredible depth, the vast majority of the its second-unit stars are guards.
In reality, Diaw is the team's sole frontcourt reserve capable of logging consistent minutes in an important contest.
While Manu Ginobili shares his role as a scoring spark with Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills, Diaw's only partner in the backup frontcourt is Jeff Ayres, who hardly qualifies as a legitimate threat—at least not yet.
And yet, his role as the team's lone talented frontcourt reserve is only half the puzzle.
Additionally, Diaw often splits minutes with Splitter, who—despite retaining the starting job—has been inconsistent throughout the season. Not to mention, Tim Duncan's age imparts a relentless health quandary that only intensifies Diaw's importance to the squad.
Even Leonard has had his fair share of health problems, and while the addition of Austin Daye ensures that another body exists in the small forward rotation, Diaw will likely log the majority of the backup small forward minutes whenever the team faces a squad whose roster makes a three-guard lineup unwise.
While guys like Tony Parker and Duncan will be holding the fort down at the top, it is quite possible that no other player—aside from Kawhi Leonard, whose value and potential are widely recognized by NBA pundits—possesses the same level of importance to the team's collective success.
In short, Diaw is a versatile, talented and often underappreciated player.
Is Boris Diaw the team's most underrated player?
Though his stats may be underwhelming and his prowess takes on a form other than flash, there is no denying how crucial his contributions have been to the team's success.
Whether or not the world has taken notice, his varied skill set has been irreplaceable to the team, which has become extremely reliant on Diaw's production.
As the Spurs continue their legendary run, you can bet that Diaw will play a vast role in any upcoming success, regardless of who takes notice.