March 16, 2018, 6:57 pm
Welcome back Hoop Ballers to our International Spotlight weekly feature where we will be taking a look into Cheick Diallo, one of the most overhyped players in the fantasy community the last couple seasons.
Diallo was born and raised in the African nation of Mali and he only started to play basketball in 2010, moving to United States in 2012 in pursuit of a basketball career. He was a five-star recruit and was widely considered one of the top players in the Class of 2015, earning MVP honors in the 2015 McDonald’s All-American Boys Game. A strong showing in Chicago validated how he could emerge as a rim protector and a rebounder, finding ways to score a little more often than you might expect considering his raw skill-level.
In his lone season at Kansas, Diallo averaged 3.0 points and 2.5 rebounds in just 7.5 minutes per game before declaring for the 2016 NBA draft, where he was selected with the No. 33 overall pick by the LA Clippers. Diallo dominated practices in front of scouts and was able to to reestablish himself and prove that he could’ve even been worth a first round pick throughout the pre-draft process.
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Even though Diallo is another player who didn’t live up to high expectations in his lone year at Kansas, scouts, coaches, trainers and medical staff absolutely raved about this kid’s character. A testament to his character is how, despite a season in which he probably tallied a lot fewer minutes than he expected, Cheick was an engaged player off the bench and showed positive body language and overall team support when his minutes began to fade. Diallo was considered unorthodox and definitely a guy that a team would have to be especially patient with but the talent and potential were there since day one. His lengthy frame, endless energy and leaping ability attracted Pelicans general manager Dell Demps, who didn’t hesitate to trade a pair of picks to move up and draft him.
Lacks Size but Compensates with Effort
Anthony Davis has repeatedly made it clear that he doesn’t enjoy playing the center position due to the constant wear and tear it brings to his body. The Pelicans have experimented with Alexis Ajinca and Omer Asik in the last few years but they both proved relatively inefficient and extremely injury prone. NBA fans might be wondering why Diallo hasn’t been in the rotation but other than the fact that he is not quite ready to contribute, the truth of the matter is that he is somehow undersized.
In May 2016, at the NBA Draft combine, Diallo registered a 7-foot, 4½-inch wingspan and an 8-foot-11½ standing reach but he measured at a mere 6’7 ½ barefoot and just 220 pounds. When compared to other 6’9’’ players though, Diallo has both terrific end-to-end speed and impressive energy to keep him going. These unique traits make Diallo a transition threat as a big man, and a chase down shot blocker and finisher on the other side of the floor. Look at an impressive sequence where, after stealing the ball from Dennis Smith, he runs the court like a guard and finishes with an impressive dunk.
Moreover, he has good length and sizes up pretty favorably as a power forward. The Malian has great footwork already and keeps his body active while the raw set of physical attributes and high energy level make him a difference maker on the defensive end of the floor. While not an elite leaper, he gets off the ground very quickly and is able to contest shots due to his great timing as a shot blocker, especially from the weak side. Look at an impressive defensive sequence from the Pelicans earlier this season. Diallo immediately realizes the need for help after a great pick-and-roll action at the top of the screen by the Blazers that enables Damian Lillard to attack the paint. He swats away Dame’s shot while Jameer Nelson is already in place to cover Meyers Leonard who timely steps back to the corner and awaits the pass.
Despite the limited action, his per-36 numbers are impressive (12.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks). Other than the physical traits, he possesses a knack for rebounding the ball despite not always being in the best position. His long arms really aid in his ability to grab misses on both ends but he needs to develop defensive versatility in order to maximize his chances to contribute more for the Pelicans. In a league that now features constant defensive switching and requires bigs to contain smaller players or run out to contest perimeter shooters, his ability to move around as a guard can prove to be extremely important. Unfortunately, the lack of of strength often makes him a target for opposing offenses as he fouls too much (4.3 per 36 minutes). Diallo must continue to hit the weight room as he has a nice frame to add muscle and an extra 15 pounds and some physical maturity would do him wonders. Look at the Nuggets attacking him with veteran Paul Millsap who easily earns the foul against the inexperienced forward.
Limited Offensive Game but a Mid-Range Threat
Cheick’s decision making offensively is still a ways from being much of an asset at the NBA level. His usage percent is low while Diallo has only dished out 16 assists in two seasons with the Pelicans to pair with 24 turnovers. Despite sporting a good overall field goal percentage (.526 overall in his two seasons), his shot selection shows that he has little grasp of the flow of the game while he rarely initiates good ball movement. Most of his offensive possessions are post-ups, showing that he can attack his man and become a target for entry passes while he also looks comfortable taking turnaround jumpers or 8-10-footers from the face-up position. And while Diallo is well aware of his limits he can hit the 15-footer, although it appears that he has a hitch in his shot. A consistent jumper is exactly what will allow him to play as a power forward at the next level because of the necessity in today’s game to step out on the perimeter and knock down a jumper. And Diallo has quietly established himself as a pick-and-pop player showing the ability to hit the mid-range shot.
Rolling to the basket on the other hand is something he isn’t as comfortable doing because he doesn’t particularly finish well, especially through contact. However, he can get better in this by adding more strength and he is a decent free throw shooter who should try to initiate contact and score more by going to the charity stripe. Look at a clumsy finish that illustrates his inability to use his size close to the basket.
Slow Development and the Need for a Rotation Job
Diallo played more regular season games as a rookie in the G-League (26) than in the NBA (17), consistently suiting up for the Pelicans in April, after Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins were shut down with injuries. In four end-of-season appearances off the bench, he averaged 11.0 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.0 block in about 24 minutes a night while putting up 18.6 points and 9.8 rebounds on 56.3 percent from the field at the Las Vegas Summer League. With the need for AD and Boogie to develop chemistry and the Pelicans desperate to make the playoffs this year the minutes were not there for him at the beginning of this season. Dell Demps has made a lot of questionable decisions in his tenure with the Pelicans but I thought it was very smart for him to trade away Dante Cunningham after DeMarcus Cousins went down with an Achilles injury in January. Diallo needs the reps and he has been averaging 13.2 minutes per game the last couple months even after the Pelicans acquired Nikola Mirotic and found a center in Emeka Okafor. Alvin Gentry has emphasized the need to develop Cheick Diallo but with his job on the line it’s obvious that he wasn’t willing to experiment with his young forward.
The draft deal to get Cheick Diallo has been an absolute steal for the Pelicans as they only had to give away a couple second round picks (David Michineau and Diamond Stone), both of whom are not in the league today. His defensive upside was the reason the Pelicans selected him but he has proven to be more than that. And while young players usually take time to develop Diallo has shown that he has the patience needed for his game to blossom. It will be even harder for him to get the minutes next year assuming that DeMarcus Cousins returns and fantasy owners should lower their expectations but Diallo is on the right path to be a successful big man in the years to come.
Stats are courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of March 16th.