On Wednesday, Hamidou Diallo delivered one of his best games of the season. And he did so while donning a face mask, making him the latest Detroit Pistons player to uphold Rip Hamilton’s legacy in that category.
Hamilton famously wore a mask to protect his nose after he broke it twice during the 2003-04 season. It didn’t negatively impact his game, as he averaged 17.6 points per game that season and 18.4 points per game during his nine seasons with the Pistons from 2002-11, including three All-Star appearances from 2006-08. It’ll be an adjustment for Diallo, who Dwane Casey said suffered a right face fracture due to some “friendly fire” from Cade Cunningham and missed Monday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
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If Diallo’s performance against the Washington Wizards is a fair indicator, Diallo will also be just fine while playing with a mask. He isn’t yet comfortable wearing it, but you couldn’t tell just by watching him.
Diallo played a season-high 29 minutes Wednesday and his energy helped the Pistons close a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime. He scored 12 points, was a team-high plus-11 and made two key plays in the fourth quarter to keep the Pistons in the game. He knocked down a 3-pointer with 5:52 on the clock, and drove and dished the ball to Isaiah Stewart for a layup during the following possession to cut the deficit to eight.
“The staff’s been killing me on it all day,” Diallo said of the comparisons to Hamilton after Wednesday’s 119-116 loss. “It’s great. I’m embracing all of it. Definitely uncomfortable. I commend (Hamilton) for doing that. That’s big time. I don’t know if I could keep up with his streak, but we’ll see.”
Casey rewarded Diallo and fellow back-up wing Frank Jackson, who scored 19 points and knocked down five 3-pointers, by playing them during the entire fourth quarter and all of overtime.
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After a shaky start to the season, he was booted from the rotation after Cade Cunningham returned from an ankle injury, Diallo has established himself as one of Detroit’s key bench players. He’s appeared in 11 of Detroit’s last 12 games and his energy, athleticism and off-ball movement have helped him stand out among the Pistons’ crowded backcourt.
Diallo thrives without the ball. He’s one of the most attentive cutters on the roster and his bounciness helps him finish over bigger defenders and reach balls many players his size cannot. He’s shooting 70% at the rim, per Cleaning The Glass, which ranks in the 80th percentile among wing players across the league. And he’s making a career-high 57.6% of his shots inside the arc.
His attempts are typically high-efficiency shots, such tip-ins, fastbreak dunks and layups after cutting to the rim.
“His energy is unbelievable,” Casey said Thursday. “It’s contagious. I think that helps us, too. I thought we missed that in the OKC game a little bit.
“He makes things happen, right, wrong or indifferent, in those situations. Love his aggressiveness. He’s trying to play the right way. He doesn’t need the ball to do it.”
On a team with multiple players who are more effective with the ball, Diallo’s willingness to embrace the hustle play has enabled him to carve a niche. The Pistons’ offense has often lulled this season, but Casey said he hopes Diallo’s off-ball movement is making things easier for his teammates.
“Sometimes, you have guys who are innately good at reading the back of the guy’s head and taking advantage of it,” Casey said. “Hami’s pretty good at that.
Contact Omari Sankofa II at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.