CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -Boris Diaw grew up in France idolizing Magic Johnson and was a roommate of Tony Parker. It's no wonder then he told his mother, perhaps the country's best center, that he planned to be a 6-foot-8 point guard.
``She told me, 'If you're 6-8, you're going to be a center,''' Diaw said Tuesday. ``I said, look at Magic Johnson. When I was a kid I was working on all those skills that the guards could have.''
Six years into his NBA career, it's still hard to define Diaw's position - except that he's the conduit for Charlotte's offense and perhaps the key to the Bobcats' playoff hopes.
``He's far exceeded what I thought and I had a pretty high regard for him prior to us getting him,'' coach Larry Brown said.
Since being acquired in December from Phoenix in a trade that also brought Raja Bell to Charlotte in exchange for Jason Richardson, Diaw is averaging a career-best 15 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists. He scored 30 points in one game this month, had 13 assists in another and is shooting 43 percent from 3-point range.
While he's listed as Charlotte's power forward, Diaw is part playmaker and post scorer for the Bobcats, finding a role that works after an unsuccessful stint in the backcourt in Atlanta and seeing his frontcourt role reduced in Phoenix.
``He can handle the ball so he can bring it up against the press. He can run pick-and-roll. He can post up,'' Brown said. ``So we just thought we were getting a basketball player.''
But the ambiguity also nearly derailed Diaw's career before it began.
After playing for the French pro team Pau Orthez for three years, the Hawks took Diaw with the 21st pick in the 2003 draft. The Hawks pegged Diaw as a point guard - but he mostly rode the bench, even failing to crack the rotation during Atlanta's 13-69 season in 2004-05.
That summer Diaw was traded to Phoenix in the deal that brought Joe Johnson to Atlanta. Suns coach Mike D'Antoni scrapped the backcourt idea and made Diaw a power forward. He then even played some center when Amare Stoudemire was injured, scored 34 points in a playoff game and was voted the NBA's most improved player in the 2005-06 season.
``What D'Antoni did, you've got to give him credit because I never would have played Boris at (power forward),'' Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. ``And he probably would have struggled and perhaps been out of the league because a lot of teams would have forced him to play (shooting guard or small forward).''
Diaw received a new contract that pays him $9 million a year through the 2011-12 season, but his numbers tailed off as Stoudemire returned and the Suns acquired Shaquille O'Neal. When D'Antoni left for New York, new coach Terry Porter put in a slower offense and the Suns struggled.
``It wasn't really a team made for that, to play to the tempo that they wanted to play,'' Diaw said.
Averaging just 8.3 points with no starts, Diaw welcomed a trade - even to a fifth-year team that has never reached the playoffs.
``It was a tough situation for him,'' Bell said. ``He wasn't going to be ahead of Amare or Shaq in that pecking order, so I think it's a good break for him.''
And Brown was intrigued with Diaw, even if he didn't know where he'd play him on offense, because of what he could do defensively.
``In our league, if you can defend out on the floor you're invaluable because everybody runs pick-and-roll,'' Brown said. ``So sometimes you have to switch out on little guys and sometimes you have to play big guys. He made it a lot easier for all of us.''
After starting 7-18, the Bobcats have played over .500 ball to get into playoff contention with Diaw serving almost as an extra point guard on the floor, learning some of those skills from his old roommate Parker, now San Antonio's point guard.
`I think Scottie, Magic, there are a few other guys who have vision like that. But he's definitely in a rare air with his ability to pass the ball out of the post.''
Not everything is perfect, though. Charlotte is coming off a 25-point loss to Indiana which put a dent into its postseason hopes. And Diaw, who turns 27 next month, has a tendency to gamble with his passes. He has four games of seven or more turnovers as a Bobcat.
``I think he's always trying to do the right thing, but sometimes he sees things that everybody doesn't see,'' Brown said. ``But I don't ever mind that because every turnover he makes he's trying to make a good play. I think he's just so gifted that you've got to live with that.''
And perhaps Diaw is the best example of the European coaching system. Diaw joined a sports academy early and began playing professionally as a teenager. It prevented him from being labeled a post player as a teen, and allowed him to develop the skills that make him so valuable.
So Diaw may not have become a true point guard, but his hybrid game is close enough to think he proved a point to his mother.
``He's a reluctant scorer,'' Brown said, ``and that's never a bad thing.''

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