We're running a series of "exit interviews" of the 2011 Los Angeles Clippers. An overview and analysis, player by player, of all 14 Clippers who finished the 2010-2011 season on the roster. In this edition: mid-season addition Ike Diogu.
Name: Ike Diogu
2010-11 Key Stats: 5.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 56.1% FG%, 13.1 mpg
Years in the NBA: 5
Years with the Clippers:1
2010-2011 Salary: $567,917
Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent
In a Nutshell
From December 26th until the end of January, the Clippers won 11 out of 17 games in what was their best sustained stretch of basketball on the season. Wins over Miami, Denver, Phoenix and the Lakers were some of the highlights along the way. And the first big off the bench the entire time (the only big off the bench for most of it) was Ike Diogu.
The Clippers seemed to get their season on track in a team meeting after a loss in Philadelphia December 15th. They won for the first time on the road in their next game against the Pistons, and then beat the Bulls on the road as well. But they lost Brian Cook to a sprained ankle in Detroit, then Craig Smith to a bad back in Chicago. With Chris Kaman already out and Jarron Collins soon to be waived for cost-cutting reasons, the depth chart was suddenly empty behind the starting bigs. Diogu, an unsigned free agent who had missed the entire 09-10 season recovering from micro-fracture surgery, had been working out in LA, and was about to leave for China to join a team there when the Clippers called. He played 17 minutes against Houston the night he was signed, scoring 8 points and grabbing 3 rebounds.
As the other bigs returned to health, Diogu faded into a deep reserve role, registering 17 DNPs in the final 25 games of the season. But his body of work (efficient interior scoring, solid rebounding, respectable post defense) was admirable whenever he was called upon. In the process, he probably earned himself a spot in the league next season, if not necessarily with the Clippers.
Though strictly speaking undersized for an NBA four at 6'9", Diogu has a 7' 3.5" wingspan that he puts to good use in the post. His body type might in fact remind Clipper fans of Elton Brand - similar basic shape, no neck, about an inch shorter, slightly less reach. He was never the most athletic guy and even before the micro-fracture surgery, you would not mistake him for Blake Griffin. But he's effective with either hand near the basket, and has a solid back to the basket game. He's not going to blow by anybody, but he uses his strength well to free up space, and he's got a very nice touch in the lane.
Perhaps his greatest strength this season was that he almost never took a bad shot, which is reflected in his .561 shooting percentage. He displayed good hands around the basket, catching and finishing. And he could also usually get off a solid shot attempt when his number was called in a post up or other isolation.
Diogu also did a solid job rebounding the ball this year. He was fourth on the team in rebounding per minute, behind he likes of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Kaman. He displayed a particular knack for offensive rebounding, and was actually second on the team (behind Jordan but just ahead of Griffin, if you can believe that) in offensive rebounding per minute. Many of those offensive rebounds resulted in putbacks, another reason his shooting percentage was so high.
Ike Diogu is never going to be mistaken for a stretch four. He will take the occasional face up jumper, but it's not a strength. He's not the kind of guy who's going to free up space inside for Blake Griffin - Diogu has to be close to the basket to be effective, same as Griffin at this stage.
He's not a shot blocker, despite the wingspan. He averaged fewer blocked shots per minute this season than Eric Gordon or Randy Foye or Baron Davis. (He was a measurably better shot blocker earlier in his career, and was close to 1 block per 36 minutes coming into the season, but the drop off may be a function of the microfracture surgery). At least he wasn't afraid to step in from the weak side and take a charge, which mitigates the lack of shot-blocking somewhat.
And he was shockingly bad at creating for teammates this season. He averaged a measly .2 assists per 36 minutes, which means that he registered about 1 assist per every 15 games he played. Yikes. Obviously he wasn't seeing a lot of double teams, but even so that's a tiny number of assists.
Future with the Clippers
As Dennis mentioned Friday in the Craig Smith Exit Interview, it may come down to either Diogu or Smith as Blake Griffin's backup next season. Both players are unrestricted free agents, and it would be redundant to have both of them on the roster. So it seems clear that it will be one or the other, or perhaps neither if the team feels they can find a better alternative (or if the players get better offers themselves).
The statistical similarities between Smith and Diogu, at least this season, can't really be overstated. On a per 36 minute basis, they scored almost identical amounts (15.9 for Diogu, 15.8 for Smith); they even scored them in an identical manner, with 6.4 field goals and 3.1 free throws. Smith shot better from the line; Diogu shot slightly better from the field, though both shot a high percentage (.561 and .553). Diogu rebounded better (8.8 vs. 7.2). They both had a tendency to foul. Though both are undersized, Smith is arguably the worse defensive liability because he's not as long. But Smith is also arguably the better scorer off the bench, providing a tough matchup for opponents who are unused to his combination of strength and quickness.
Kaman, Griffin, Jordan and Cook all figure to be back next season (assuming Jordan re-signs, Cook exercises his player option, no one is traded, blah blah blah). There's room for two more bigs on a 14 man roster; but what kind will they be? The Clippers may opt for a third true center, a la Jarron Collins last season. They may look for an upgrade over Cook in the 'stretch four' department, or at least someone who can space the floor better than Diogu and Smith, given the rest of the roster. In the end, Diogu may prove to be a cost-effective alternative - he can no doubt be had for the league minimum, and he played the five on several occasions this season.
Still, with Smith's longer history with the team, not to mention coach Vinny Del Negro's obvious preference for the Rhino down the stretch this season, it seems likely that if it does indeed come down to a choice, Smith will get the nod. But after his yeoman's work this season, I think we can expect to see Ike Diogu in the NBA, as opposed to playing in China, in 2011-2012.
Other 2011 Exit Interviews