A step forward is expected; a leap forward deserves praise.
In Hamidou Diallo’s third season out of Kentucky, he’s finally starting to put some of the pieces together, while proving to everyone that he is more than just an athletic dunk-contest winner.
Through a third of the season, Diallo is averaging a career-high 12.7 points per game while shooting 51 percent from the field. He is also grabbing a career-high 4.3 rebounds and dishing out 2.4 assists per game, also a career high.
The confidence he’s exuded on the court show both maturity and growth in his skill set and on-court awareness as a player. And though it may not be a wealthy sample size in games, Diallo is doing subtle things to show that he is now a real NBA player, not just a prospect.
Confidence in shot selection
Diallo’s offensive improvements are linked to his offensive shot selection.
In previous seasons, Thunder fans saw Diallo recklessly drive into the paint, with no regard for the bigs who often would slide over into help positions. This often led to difficult layup attempts that had little chance of going in. During the 2019-20 NBA season, Diallo shot 70 percent of his shots from less than 10 feet, according to NBA.com’s tracking data. When those looks were open he converted on 51 percent of them. However, that percentage dropped astronomically to 38 percent when defenders were within 2-4 feet of him on drives to the basket.
This season, he hasn’t eliminated difficult drives to the basket, but he is taking less, and learning how to pick his spots offensively. In 2020-21, Diallo is driving to the rim 61 percent of the time, a sharp decrease from what was seen the season prior. Instead, he has added a pull-up jumper to his offensive repertoire, which he takes at a 25-percent rate. Though the percentages aren’t great on his pull up jumper (36 percent), the threat that he might take one adds a needed dimension to his game.
Since Diallo isn’t taking nearly as many contested looks, his ability to score the ball efficiently when the defense is closing out has improved. Now on looks where the defender is within 2-4 feet of him, he is shooting 62 percent.
These offensive improvements are a testament to his commitment to improving on the offensive end of the floor. It also helps that for the first time in his career he isn’t playing behind a Hall of Fame-level guard. Because of that, Mark Daigneault has allowed him to play through mistakes, giving him the needed reps to understand where/what to do in certain spots on the floor.
The biggest surprise in Diallo’s growth this season is in his new-found passing instincts. On the year, he boasts his highest assist percentage of his career (17%). His assist to turnover ratio has also improved to 1.71 on the season. And for the first time in Diallo’s career, he looks comfortable making plays for others on the court.
Diallo will never be an elite-level playmaker, but he does have the opportunity to be competent. The month of February has shown this, as he is averaging 4.2 assists per game. The next level for Diallo as a passer comes when he grows comfortable handling the ball in pick-and-roll scenarios. I don’t expect him to ever be able to have third or fourth-level reads out of the pick-and-roll, but I do expect him to understand how the defense plays him when he comes off of a screen with the ball in his hands.
Diallo for the future
The tantalizing aspect about Diallo’s growth is that he hasn’t lost what he came into the league with – athleticism. He still has great body control, and he can hang in the air to make needed plays. He is showing now that all he needed was the right opportunity to showcase the rest of his game.
Diallo is far from a finished product as a player, but it’s nice to see that he is finally headed in the right direction.