Get to know: Keita Bates-Diop’s versatility is his strength

With all the new additions the Phoenix Suns have made to the roster, I feel like Deborah Kerr King and I. No, I’m not a widow and new to 19th century Bangkok. I sing, “getting to know you, getting to know all about you”.

I think it’s valuable to understand where these players are coming from and how they’re perceived by those you’ve covered. The series continues. Next on the list is Keita Bates-Diop, who the Suns acquired via free agency and who last played for them san antonio tracks.

KBD’s numbers don’t jump off the page at you when you first look at them. 9.7 points last season in 42 starts and 67 games for the basement-dwelling Spurs. 3.7 rebounds. 50.8/29.4/79.3 sliding split. We’re not talking about a player who on the surface seems like a steal. But that’s how most of us feel. Why?

Jesus Gomez of SB Nation’s Pounding the Rock website was kind enough to answer some of the questions I have about the newest member of the Phoenix Suns. Here’s what he had to say that reinforced the “why” question.

John Win: How would you describe KBD’s game? What are his strengths and what weaknesses should we prepare for?

Jesus Gómez: Keita Bates-Diop is someone who does all the complementary things. He is not the best defender, the best scorer or the best shooter, but he can do a bit of everything. His versatility is truly his strength. Off the ball, he is an excellent cutter and someone who can hit a wide open three. On the ball, he has developed a smart post game to punish opponents who try to cover a smaller player on him.

In defense he is not a stopper, but he can hold his own against the bigger small forwards and the smaller power forwards. He’s not going to make many plays on that end, but he’ll rotate and shut out.

He’s just solid across the board.

JV: Who would you compare Bates-Diop to, past or present?

JG: A combination of Otto Porter Jr. and Bo Outlaw, I think? He plays hard and smart to make up for his physical limitations and is at his best when others create for him and he can just focus on doing the little things.

JV: What can you tell us about his journey as an NBA player?

JG: Bates-Diop was on his way out of the NBA after failing to establish himself in Minnesota and Denver when the Spurs signed him to a two-way contract. He turned that opportunity into a three-year stay at the club and has now joined a candidate who speaks to his character.

It was probably tough playing for a San Antonio team that changed his role repeatedly, but he never complained and was always ready to go when needed. He has made it through persistence and hard work.

JV: How durable of a player is he?

JG: It’s really hard to say. He had some minor injuries in San Antonio, but the Spurs rested players to come into the game. Was he too injured to play every time he missed games or was he kept off the active roster as a precaution? Impossible to know. He hasn’t had any major health issues over the past three years, and he doesn’t have a ton of NBA minutes on his body, so he should be fine.

JV: What was the most frustrating thing about watching him play as a fan?

JG: It was a problem for several Spurs, but it was painful at times to watch KBD pass up open threes. He got better at just pulling the trigger last season, but still wasn’t a volume shooter and pretty much only took and made wide open threes. Maybe will have more success last year than he did in the past, that he can rely more on his jumper, but it’s doubtful, so get ready to scream “Take the shot, KBD!” on your TV at least a few times.

JV: Do you think he could be a starter with Phoenix?

JG: Of course. He’s a low-usage opportunistic hustle player who will be happy to just play defense and take open shots, which is the type of guy you need when you have stars. He moves well off the ball, can guard multiple positions, and will get his fair share of open threes. He shouldn’t be a starter on most teams, but in Phoenix he makes sense as one.

JV: Is he a “glad he’s gone” or “wish he stayed” kind of guy?

JG: He’s a “glad he’s gone” guy, only because it simply didn’t make sense for the Spurs to keep him given where they are in their rebuild. San Antonio doesn’t need veterans who will take minutes away from younger players simply by being more reliable, and that’s something that could have happened if KBD had re-signed. It’s also good to see him get an opportunity to play with a contender.

JV: Any final thoughts?

JG: Keita Bates-Diop won’t raise the ceiling for the Suns or any other team, but he’s the type to help set the floor a little higher. He will always play hard and do exactly what is asked of him without causing any distractions, which is valuable to both rebuilding teams like the Spurs and contenders like the Suns.

Very similar to Drew Eubanks and Yuta Watanabe, it sounds like Phoenix got themselves a quality player. Yes, Bates-Diop has his flaws. We shouldn’t expect him to be an All-Star. We shouldn’t expect him to make a defensive team. But what we can expect is someone who will play hard, be dedicated to the craft and take the chance on this team.

Could he eventually become a starter for the team? We are one summer away from answering that question.

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