Hamidou Diallo’s fit with the Detroit Pistons is interesting. Once a highly-touted prospect coming out of high school, the former second-round pick went on to be one of the rare flops for John Calipari at Kentucky. He wasn’t bad, he just didn’t live up to the one-and-done hype that came with being a top recruit in 2017.
Unsurprisingly, his NBA career has unfolded similarly.
Diallo was uncovered by the Oklahoma City Thunder, and while there he had moments of promise. There were times where he looked like a good prospect and times where he looked lost. It’s ironic that after just two seasons, he was squeezed out by a (potentially) superior version of himself in Lu Dort.
There’s a lot to like with Diallo. His partial season in Detroit this season was like the rest of his career — up and down. Troy Weaver, who had a say in his selection in OKC, knew what he was getting in acquiring Diallo for Svi Mkyaluik and a second-round pick.
He got an athletic wing, which the Pistons have sorely lacked in recent years, whose basketball skills needed to catch up to his physical abilities. But after averaging a solid 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists in 20 games for the Pistons, Diallo is now a restricted free agent.
The question is: do the Pistons bring him back?
Before their win in the NBA Draft Lottery last month, the answer was an obvious yes. Diallo still had a role as a bouncy perimeter player who can man both wing positions. His shooting is suspect, despite his 39% showing from deep in that short sample this season, but he has the tools.
The Good (and Bad)
There are times where his strength, size and athleticism make him look the part of a lockdown perimeter defender. You can read more about that here from our enbiejowiec, but Diallo has the chops to be a bulldog on the perimeter. He’s not easily moved, he’s quick on his feet, and he’s athletic enough to stick with bigger players.
However, the sum of the parts isn’t always great.
Detroit’s defense was still average with him on the floor, and Diallo is still too aggressive, averaging four fouls per 36 minutes.
Offensively, there are times where you’re wow’d by his game, and there are times where you’re wondering what the hell he’s doing. He had stretches where that inconsistent jumper was falling. It’s weird because, on the surface, the form on his shot doesn’t look bad… it’s just lacking any sort of touch. The guy fires missiles at the rim.
But … when that jumper is falling, the driving lanes open up. When that happens, Diallo is a different player, as we saw against the Hornets this season:
He doesn’t feel like a super athlete when he’s driving to the rim. He’s not scoring over guys, and he’s not a big posterizing dunker—despite his reputation. Instead, he uses that strength and athleticism to bully his way to HIS spots. He gets to the rim, he doesn’t get two feet from it.
That allows for easy buckets, ones that will come more when he has better spacing around him and better distributors. The Pistons, especially without Jerami Grant on the floor, lack shot creators. Diallo is willing to make it happen, but too often he’s stymied at the free-throw line. His handle isn’t tight or crafty enough to get by good defenders.
He needs a straight line to score. He’s sort of like a lightning-fast running back who doesn’t have the vision to find the hole and hit it. Diallo isn’t going to shimmy his way to the rim, but if you give him a clear lane he’s going to make you pay for it.
Does He Stay Or Does He Go?
That brings us to the whole lottery thing. The Pistons, say, two months ago, had a clear spot for Diallo. Now, after winning the lottery and the opportunity to employ Cade Cunningham, things are a little different.
Cunningham is going to make life SO MUCH easier for everyone on this team. He’s that good of a passer and scorer. I can see Diallo working the baseline and feeding off Cade’s ability to occupy the defense on drives. I can see his shooting opening up lanes for Diallo’s drives.
I can also see Cade playing alongside Saddiq Bey, Killian Hayes and Jerami Grant a lot, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for Diallo.
As always, it depends on the market for a free agent like Diallo. Weaver traded for Diallo to ensure that the Pistons controlled his restricted free agency. They can pay him what it takes to keep him, and it’s probably worth signing a 22-year-old with elite athleticism and a toolbox of interesting skills to a modest deal— say, 3 years, $21 million deal.
But is it worth it if that’s a $35-40 million deal? I don’t know. Diallo has a place on this team for the right price. He’s a fun player, one whose best years are ahead of him.
The question now, as always, is the price right? That’s for Weaver to decide and us to find out.