Growing Up Thunder: Hamidou Diallo’s Rise
Hamidou Diallo has been a bright spot for the Thunder in the early season. We’ll be tracking his development along with the rest of the young players stepping into featured roles for Oklahoma City.
Promise from the start
Hamidou Diallo was born in Queens, New York in 1998, and stayed in New York up until his sophomore year of high school. Attending John Browne High School, he quickly emerged as a top talent.
Averaging 17.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game as a freshman, Diallo started his ascent to becoming a 5-star prospect. He got invited to play in many circuits, such as the Under Armour Association Circuit (UAA) where he averaged 22.5 points and five rebounds per game as just a 16 year old.
Diallo transfered to Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut to finish his last two years of high school. He dominated there too, and led his team to a 38-3 record his senior season. Averaging 19 points, six rebounds and three assists per game, Diallo became one of the most sought out recruits in the nation.
A rocky path to the league
Accepting an offer to Kentucky was Diallo’s calling card in 2017. However, due to enrolling late in the program, Diallo did not play a single game for the Wildcats, declaring for the NBA draft after the season. Expecting to be a first round pick, the NBA seemed inevitable. But Diallo soon changed his mind and decided to return to Kentucky to play in their 2017-18 season. He went on to start 37 games and average 10 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.
His shooting splits of 42.8/33.8/61.6 left a lot to be desired. But when you put on the tape, you can see that his game translated to the NBA level due to his athleticism. Some players are better suited for the NBA style of play than college (look no further than former Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook).
Heading into the 2018 draft, Diallo was projected as a late first round talent. A lot of mock drafts had him slotted between picks 33 and 37, but he ended up falling to #45 for the Brooklyn Nets. His draft rights were shuttled between two stops: first to the Charlotte Hornets and then to his final destination, the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder signed him to a cost efficient deal thanks to his second rounder status.
The rookie wall
An up-and-down rookie season showed that Diallo was very raw and needed time to develop, but having the opportunity to learn from Paul George for a season played a huge role in what we see from him today. The highlight of Diallo’s rookie season was his late inclusion in the slam dunk contest which he would end up winning, showcasing a signature dunk over Shaq.
He would finish his rookie season playing in 51 games, including three starts, averaging 3.7 points and 1.9 rebounds per night. He struggled with shooting splits registering at 45.5/16.7/61 while seeming hesitant at times to shoot. Overall, he showed flashes and turned a season bound for the G-League into valuable NBA experience.
The second jump
Fast forward to the 2019 offseason. Diallo got right into the lab to work on improving his shot and his ball-handling. Although the Thunder’s offseason would go a completely different direction than planned, it’s turning out to prove beneficial for Diallo.
The first opportunity Diallo would get was at the 2019 Summer League in Las Vegas. Playing in four games, he averaged 27.5 minutes per contest and finished second on the team with 14.8 points per game, trailing only Kevin Hervey at 15.2. He showed flashes of being an extra ball-handler on the floor, a role OKC tried to groom Terrance Ferguson for at the 2018 Summer League.
With the Thunder shifting towards a youth movement, the 2019-20 season set up for Diallo to show his potential. He has grown in his role off the bench, and could supplant Ferguson in the starting lineup if the latter continues to struggle. With the uncertainty of Andre Roberson’s return, the Thunder would definitely welcome the sight of a new productive starting wing.
Hype aside, if you look into the first six games of the season you will see mixed results. The field goal percentage is up a tick from 45.5% to 46.3%, which is good for the extra work load. But his 3-point percentage of 10% and free throw percentage of 56.3% are both down. Improving those areas is essential to what Diallo brings to the floor.
Other developments in his game are more clearly positive. His usage has climbed from 16% to 23% from year one to year two. He’s showing increased skill and more confidence handling the ball.
Diallo is no longer waiting for plays to happen, taking initiative in getting his own offensive game going. Increased confidence and an ability to create his own shot will be valuable tools as his career goes along.
One area that he seems to be excelling in and improving rapidly is defense. His defensive rating as a rookie was a sky high 110.3. Although it’s a small sample size, his defensive rating rests at 96.2 through seven games this season.
The Thunder look to have a trio of young players they will attack the future with in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Darius Bazley and Diallo. As the year continues I fully expect Diallo’s minutes and opportunities to keep climbing. Quite a few players will be dealt, such as Danilo Gallinari, Nerlens Noel and Dennis Schröder, and those shots and minutes have to go somewhere. Diallo is primed to benefit from that.
Combined with a plethora of picks to draft or trade, continued growth from Diallo and company will make the Thunder’s future very bright.