A Cheick-in on Diallo in the D-League

Published: March 29, 2017

Rather than select two players in the second round or trading one (or both) of their two 2016 second round picks, the Pelicans opted to package the 39th and 40th picks of the NBA draft in order to move up to the 33rd spot, selecting 19 year old Kansas product Cheick Diallo. While Diallo has only seen about 100 minutes for the Pelicans this season, he has generally made the most of them – his 15.3 points per 36 minutes is just ahead of first round pick Buddy Hield’s 15.1 (while he was in New Orleans), and his 12.1 rebounds per 36 minutes is just north of Anthony Davis’ average (11.9).

In addition to his sporadic NBA playing time, Diallo has also registered over 700 minutes in the NBA D-League. While this league isn’t on most Pelicans fans’ radars, it is well within Chris Reichert’s purview, who generously agreed to answer a few questions about Diallo’s play this season. Very few people follow the D-League as closely as Chris, so we are very fortunate to get his insight and perspective. Let’s jump into our Q&A, but first, make sure to give Chris a follow on Twitter at @Chris_Reichert.

MG: To start things off, would you mind telling our fine Bourbon Street Shots readers a little about yourself and your area of expertise (along with the site for which you write)?

CR: I have been a media credentialed blogger covering the NBA D-League for 3+ years now. All of my writing can be found at The Step Back which is an NBA vertical on FanSided.com. I’m the associate editor there along with being our senior D-League writer.

MG: Thanks for the intro, and thanks again for helping us learn more about Diallo’s play this season. Let’s start with the good stuff – what have you seen from Diallo that you think will best translate to NBA success?

CR: The traits which immediately stand out as translatable for Diallo are his defensive instincts, rim protection and overall athleticism. His block rate in 26 D-League games this season is an impressive 6.69 percent (Rudy Gobert’s is 6.31 percent) and he uses every bit of his 7-foot-4.5 inch wingspan to block shots both on-ball and as a weakside defender. He’s grown as the season has gone on in terms of knowing where he needs to be defensively as well. Early on he was chasing blocks and leaving the weak side susceptible to offensive boards when he did not block the shot. Now, he’s staying home or jumping just enough to alter an opponents’ shot without a complete sellout. The other really impressive thing I’ve noticed while studying film on Diallo is it feels like the vast majority of his blocks stay in bounds, often sparking an offensive break for his team.

MG: His in-season growth is definitely great to hear about. Given the fact that he didn’t play much in his lone college season at Kansas (despite being the 7th ranked high school recruit in the country in 2015), the hope from Pelicans fans has been that he’d start to show flashes that we didn’t get a chance to see from him in college. Now let’s talk about the negatives – what are the biggest red flags within Diallo’s game that will be a barrier to a sustained NBA career?

CR: The major red flag to me right now is that he is a bit of a black hole. It hits his hands and some way some how it’s going up. This is an ongoing issue for him as well. Although he didn’t play a ton at Kansas as a freshman, he still managed 202 total minutes played and in that span he had a whopping one assist — one! That’s rather astounding when you think about the talent he had around him in college as well. The trend continued to his D-League play — especially early — as he’s amassed a total of 18 assists in 724 minutes of play. One thing of note however is over the last two months he’s gotten 13 of those 18 assists, so it appears he is cognoscente of the problem and is working to remedy it.

MG: The lack of assists is a great point which makes me wonder if pairing him with Anthony Davis could be a challenge at times since AD also struggles to find open teammates (despite all of the attention that he garners). Definitely something to keep an eye on moving forward. Speaking of moving forward – assuming the Pelicans accept their “non-playoff” fate in the near future, how much (if at all) would heavy NBA minutes down the stretch this season benefit Diallo’s development?

CR: I’m always of the thought that there is no replacement for NBA minutes. If the Pelicans want to play the let’s-see-what-we-got game with the 20-year-old Diallo, I think it would be beneficial. Diallo is far from a finished product, but (if he’s willing to assume the right role) he can contribute as early as next season for New Orleans based on what I have seen. He’s also shown an ability to hit mid-range jump shots this season as he’s knocked down 51-of-127 (40.2 percent) of those attempts. That skill would be super helpful for him to continue to harness, so that he could easily play alongside Anthony Davis and/or DeMarcus Cousins and provide spacing for either of them to operate in the paint.

MG: We are in total agreement on that one; I would love to see Diallo get more NBA minutes over the Pelicans’ final eight games. Hard to think of a better way to make the transition than playing alongside guys like AD and Boogie. Let me push you a bit further on that comment about next year – what kind of contributions do you think Diallo could realistically make for the Pelicans in the 2017-18 season?

CR: This is tough, because the Pelicans are a team that will be in flux this off-season. They only have 11 players under contract for the 2017-18 season as of now, we can only assume they will try to bring back Jrue Holiday at the point and Diallo clearly has two juggernaut big men in front of him on the depth chart. That latter statement could be used to Diallo and the Pelicans’ benefit as they can attempt to assimilate the young shot-blocker slowly, allowing him to acclimate himself to playing with bigger, stronger and faster players in the NBA. Ultimately, I think Diallo could be a better version of Clint Capela, because unlike Capela, Diallo has an uber soft touch with either hand and has already shown an ability to step out and knock down an 18-footer.

MG: If the readers of this column are anything like me, they just started drooling a little in response to your Capela comparison. While it certainly wouldn’t happen overnight, an interior defender like that would be as close to an ideal 3rd big man as one could hope for, especially as it relates to AD’s freedom to play weak/help side defense. Anything else to share about what you’ve seen from Diallo that we haven’t yet covered?

CR: One aspect of his game I’ve noticed lately is he’s refining his jump shot mechanics as the season progresses. Early in the season his guide hand was almost non-existent as he would raise up and release his jumper. It’s clear somebody with New Orleans caught wind of this issue and he’s slowly but surely been leaving his guide hand alongside his release much longer, which has resulted in more arc and less missing to the left and/or right. It really is the little things at this level and he seems like a player who wants to get better and is listening to feedback.

MG: That attention to detail is really encouraging, both for Diallo and for the organization as a whole. To wrap up, I have one more “bonus” question that falls just a bit outside the scope of our discussion up until now. Last season, you asked myself and a few others about our thoughts on the fact that the NBA teams that we cover don’t have D-League affiliates. In your expert opinion, how big of a problem is the Pelicans’ lack of a D-League team? The most recent impact is that Diallo has played for three different D-League teams this year instead of one – does that matter at all?

CR: It’s a problem, but not a massive one at this point. Diallo has played 26 total games (15 with Greensboro, 9 with Austin and 2 with Long Island) this season in the D-League and with each new team his role, minutes and expectations fluctuate. That can become an issue with a very young talent like Diallo, but he’s really taken it in stride to his credit. He comes across as a wildly confident player — sometimes almost arrogant — so that has assisted him during his time behind the scenes in the D-League. The bigger issue is that he is running other teams’ offenses, defenses and schemes and he’s not becoming immersed in those things as they pertain to New Orleans specifically. It equates to more work for him ultimately, and more work for the team depending on how quickly he can pick up their stuff over the summer.

MG: That all makes complete sense – hopefully the Pels end up with their own direct affiliate at some point soon, but regardless, it sounds like Diallo is the kind of player who won’t think twice about the work necessary to familiarize himself with the Pelicans’ various schemes and overall style of play. Thanks again for all of your great insight into Cheick Diallo, Chris – we all really appreciate your time.

*All NBA stats in this column come from Basketball-Reference and all D-League stats come from the NBA’s D-League Stats database.*

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