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Does Hamidou Diallo’s Potential Add Up to “NBA Player”?

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The lanky Kentucky freshman brings plenty of weapons to the table, but putting it all together may be a challenge.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional Practice Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2018 NBA Draft around the corner and the Portland Trail Blazers holding the 24th selection in the first round, we’re looking at a number of prospects who might fall into that area. Among them stands Hamidou Diallo, a freshman guard from Kentucky. He has the potential to be an impact player at the next level with his incredible physical tools, but his up-and-down freshman season at Kentucky didn't bode well for his current status.

Hamidou Diallo - Freshman, Kentucky

  • Height: 6’5”
  • Weight: 200
  • Wingspan: 6’11”
  • Shoots: Right
  • Position: SG
  • Age: 19
  • Projected draft range: Early - Mid second round

2017-18 Statistics

  • PPG: 10.0 | Per 40: 16.2
  • RPG: 3.6 | Per 40: 5.8
  • APG: 1.2 | Per 40: 2.0
  • STL: 0.8 | Per 40: 1.2
  • BLK: 0.4 | Per 40: 0.6
  • FG%: 42.8
  • 3P%: 33.8 (26/77)

2017-18 Season

Diallo committed to the Wildcats in January of ‘17 and enrolled in classes that next weekend. The 6’5 Connecticut product spent the rest of the season practicing, getting reps against players, and taking advantage of the facilities. He never played in s game for Kentucky that year but he became eligible to enter the NBA draft that summer. Instead, Diallo returned to college to raise his draft stock. Whether he actually accomplished that is up to debate.

Diallo’s prior experience and familiarity with the Kentucky system paid off early. He looked like the go-to guy at the start of the year, averaging 15 points and 5 rebounds per contest in the first 13 games of the season. From that moment forward, a decline in productivity coincided with a decrease in minutes. Over his last 20 games, Diallo reached the double-digit mark just 4 times. Through that stretch, he was outplayed by fellow Kentucky freshmen Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and PJ Washington, who all finished the year with more points, rebounds and assists than Diallo. Kentucky still managed to win their conference tournament, even with Diallo chipping in only 16 points and 4 rebounds total over the 3-game tournament. Kentucky roped in a 4 seed and squeaked by 12th-seeded Davidson in the first round. The high water mark of Diallo’s season followed when he broke out of his slump with a 22 point, 8 rebound outburst against Buffalo in the second round, only to score 2 points in 13 minutes the following game as Kentucky’s season ended in an upset loss to 9th-seeded Kansas State.

Strengths

Diallo comes equipped with more weapons than Optimus Prime. You could argue he is the top overall athlete in the draft. He brings elite length, elite speed, elite athleticism, good defensive instincts, and a high motor. He plays so hard, you almost wish he had more regard for his well being. He’s a dangerous man in transition, especially for defenders near the basket. He either plows into them or takes flight in an attempt to “posterize”. His upper body is not particularly strong, but his lower body is sturdy and explosive. At 6’5, he is not overly tall but his massive 6’11 wingspan and his 44-inch vertical read more like 6’8. Diallo will dive on loose balls, crashing into people or equipment if he needs to, and he shows great activity without the ball. Diallo will never be a high-volume assist guy, but he reads the floor better than his assist numbers would indicate. Defensively, Diallo has the abilities and the heart to be terror.

Weaknesses

Diallo’s mental and physical tools may be great, but his game all-around game is undeniably raw. He has a serviceable handle, but he’s a straight-line driver. He doesn’t show much creativity in his moves, one-on-one or on the drive. His shot is not poor but will definitely need tweaking before it can be counted on as a reliable source of points. Defensively, the tools are all there, but the instincts come and go. For a player as athletic as Diallo is, his steal and blocks numbers are low. His foul numbers were a problem all year long; he fouled out 4 times. Diallo has all the physical tools to be a good NBA player, but his skill set still has a ways to go.

Overall Assessment

I have some nice, high quality, newish tools at my house. They are capable of building great things. Sometimes my 2 year old daughter will grab and play with some of the the non-dangerous ones. She has yet to build anything great with them.

Diallo has all of the tools and all of the potential in the world. He’s already capable of doing things physically that many NBA players cannot. But mentioning that a player has “potential” also implies that the player hasn’t done much yet. That is, for the most part, true here. Diallo’s display of his tools has not been overly impressive. He doesnt have the half court game offensively to play at the NBA level and hasn’t shown elite defense either.

Early in the year Diallo looked like a lottery pick, in brief flashes. It’s rare to see a freshman do well early and then drop off as the season goes along, so there is a chance that the second half of the season was the anomaly. As a freak athlete with an unimpressive half court game, the NBA might showcase his skills better than the NCAA. He wouldn’t be the first Kentucky product to be a better NBA player than college player.

Banking on a player’s skills to catch up to his physical tools is a risky gamble. That said, there’s a difference between effective and skilled. Diallo could still turn into a very effective player even if he never becomes highly skilled.

The NBA combine could provide a great reminder of what Diallo is capable of. I was surprised when he decided not to enter. His body of work at Kentucky left much to be desired, so the combine seemed like a great place to regenerate some buzz. If this decision calls into question his love for the game or competitive nature, Diallo could be in for a fall on draft day.

Overall Fit

If Portland’s number one goal is to be as competitive as possible next year, Diallo is probably not their guy. He could become a serviceable hustle player/defender as a rookie, but his offensive game would require a pretty massive transformation. His athleticism would be a great addition, but that alone won’t translate to added wins in Portland's immediate future.

If Portland is looking to rebuild, Diallo has incredible upside, especially for a player that could fall into the second round. Portland doesn't have a second-round pick this year, so that may be a moot point unless they choose to purchase one. Taking Diallo at 24 is a bit of a stretch for a guy with a potentially low floor, The fourth-best freshman on any team, even Kentucky, doesn’t exactly scream, “Can’t miss!” If Portland does take Diallo at 24, that may be an indication that they’re focusing further in the future than next year. Even so, trading down to get him would make more sense.