Hornets sign free agent forward Diogu

Wednesday, July 29, 2009
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Frontcourt depth, low-post scoring and rebounding are some of the areas New Orleans has been hoping to address this summer. The Hornets may have made strides in all three categories by signing four-year NBA veteran forward Ike Diogu to a free-agent contract.

A lottery pick (ninth overall) to Golden State in 2005, Diogu has played for four different teams, but has been buried on the depth chart with the Warriors, Pacers, Trail Blazers and Kings. He’s had an unusual career, in that his opportunity to play has actually decreased each year he’s been in the league. Diogu played a career-high 69 games and 1,031 minutes for Golden State as a rookie in 2005-06, but in the three following seasons logged 760, 305 and 215 minutes, respectively.

The 6-foot-9, 250-pounder will compete for playing time off the bench, where New Orleans’ backup big men have often been inconsistent or unproductive. Since arriving in the NBA from Arizona State, Diogu’s biggest asset probably has been his ability to score in the paint with his back to the basket. During the 2007-08 NBA season, when a torn calf muscle severely curtailed his contributions, ESPN.com’s John Hollinger called the injury “a shame, because he’s shown the potential to be a real force as an inside scorer – in his 305 minutes last season he averaged 21.8 points and 11.0 rebounds per 40 minutes.”

In Portland last season, Diogu again received scant playing time, then was dealt to Sacramento at the February trade deadline. He again barely left the bench with the Kings, but at the close of the regular season, Diogu put together two eye-opening performances, particularly for a guy who had been used so sparingly. He piled up 32 points and 11 rebounds at Denver on April 13, and wrapped up the season with a 28-point, 13-rebound outing at Minnesota on April 15. Those are significantly better numbers than any Hornets frontcourt reserve has compiled in a single game during the Chris Paul era of the franchise.

“Diogu's numbers from his first two seasons in Golden State were nearly as strong (as his third-year stats),” Hollinger describes in his most recent ESPN.com scouting report, “and taken together they paint a picture of a guy who will be very productive just as soon as somebody actually lets him play.”

Diogu had several teams interested in signing him as an unrestricted free agent. It will be interesting to hear him describe his list of reasons for why he chose to sign in New Orleans. I’d be surprised if one of them wasn’t that he believes he has an optimum chance to earn some much-needed playing time, especially relative to the other clubs that tried to land him. At this point in his career, that has to be a huge consideration for him, for obvious reasons.