Cheick Diallo is poised to destroy rims all around the Big 12 for Kansas this year. Once that damage is done, don’t expect him to fall too far on NBA Draft night.
The 6’9″ Mali native played his high school ball at Our Savior New American in New York, and the NCAA hasn’t yet declared him eligible to suit up for the Jayhawks. Coach Bill Self recently told reporters he believes Diallo will be cleared, but there’s still some uncertainty because other players from Our Savior have been ruled ineligible at Alabama and Oklahoma State (per Kyle Ringo of Yahoo Sports).
Assuming Diallo eventually gets the green light, the McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic MVP will quickly display tantalizing NBA upside.
When it comes to ball skills and scoring talent, Diallo is arguably the weakest prospect among potential lottery selections. So why is he highly regarded in scouting circles, and why does he have a legitimate chance to land in the top 10 come June?
Defensive Range, Energy and Versatility
It starts with his length and tireless motor. Diallo is an undersized combo big from a height standpoint (6’9″), but his 7’4″ wingspan and 9’1″ standing reach give him great vertical and horizontal range.
Unlike most long-limbed centers, Diallo is a terrific full-court athlete, showcasing the ability to cover huge acreage in a blink.
His mobility will undoubtedly make him a versatile defensive weapon in the NBA. Diallo will not only develop into a top-tier isolation defender, but he’ll also be able to disrupt pick-and-rolls and swoop in from the weak side to derail slashers.
Diallo’s not a perfect stopper yet, as he must improve his decision-making and body mechanics. In the meantime, his assertiveness, physical prowess and natural talent are irresistible. Adam Finkelstein of ESPN.com illustrated Diallo’s multifaceted impact:
He has the capability to dominate a game defensively, not only with his ability to block shots and patrol the paint from wide radiuses, but also by finishing possessions on the defensive glass. Additionally, his quick feet and strong upper body allow him to hedge ball screens on the perimeter and be a physical defender in the post.
Diallo is only 220 pounds (or in that neighborhood) right now, so he needs to gain 25-30 additional pounds before he can win positional battles in the paint. In the near future, opposing centers will be able to gain low-post real estate and box him out for rebounds.
Fortunately, Diallo’s explosive energy and long-term value make him a worthwhile prospect on the defensive side. His athleticism and length will bother the shots of stronger foes, and his speed will allow him switch out onto guards and force turnovers in unsettled situations.
Offensive Motor, Athleticism and Rebounding
Diallo’s back-to-the-basket repertoire is limited and his ball-handling skills aren’t sharp enough for isolation drives. He’s also an inconsistent jump-shooter with a flawed motion and release.
Nevertheless, he could make a sizable offensive impact in the Association, enough to warrant a top 10 selection.
Remember that full-court athleticism we mentioned earlier? It’s driven by a motor unlike anyone else’s in the 2016 class. Diallo consistently outran even the best high school competition from end to end, and he’ll make similar dashes in college and the pros:
Self explained how Diallo’s relentlessness changes the complexion of the game (via Kami Mattioli of the Sporting News):
Cheick forces a pace that nobody has ever forced here. He can create pace better than any point guard we’ve ever had here. Just because the dude from rim to rim is as good as I’ve seen. I didn’t say the best offensive player, but running rim to rim I think he’ll drag everybody along with him. I also think it forces us to play at a faster pace when your big guys run like that.
When Diallo’s not busy gliding past everyone for high-percentage buckets, he’s working hard in half-court scenarios to get his team extra possessions and finish plays.
He dives to the cup with tremendous quickness and body control. Factor in his length and bounce, and you’ve got a pick-and-roll scorer at any level. Diallo attacks the basket aggressively when he catches the rock with momentum, and he exhibits a soft touch on close-range buckets.
Aside from pick-and-roll conversions and one-dribble drives to the rim, Diallo offers magnificent value as an offensive rebounder. He’s the type of nonstop competitor who’s impossible to keep off the glass.
DraftExpress.com compiled stats from 1,610 minutes of Diallo’s performances in EYBL, Nike Global, Elite 24, NBPA Top 100, McDonald’s All-American, Jordan Brand Classic and Nike Hoop Summit games since 2013. He averaged a whopping 5.4 offensive boards per 40 minutes in those games. When he adds more muscle, he’ll be an elite offensive rebounder in the NBA.
Potential Role and Overall Outlook
Diallo has been compared by some to Denver Nuggets power forward Kenneth Faried, and that’s a decent general comparison. They both run the floor like deer, attack the glass and wear down opponents without much offensive skill.
But it should be noted that Diallo has a distinct chance to become more valuable than the Manimal.
Diallo’s wingspan is four inches longer and his standing reach is also taller. This gives him a better frame for operating as a center, challenging 7-footers defensively and on the boards. Faried enjoys intermittent stretches of success on defense, but Diallo could be a significantly more dynamic rim protector. Diallo’s length will also enable him to execute more contested shots around the hoop.
In conclusion, Diallo has the foundational traits of a combo big man. He’ll be a super-charged defender and rebounder, and his offensive contribution will be substantial without commanding touches or a featured role. In his prime, he’ll be a double-double player whose defensive versatility renders adversaries feeble in the paint.