Detroit Pistons’ Hamidou Diallo scoring surge has many wondering: ‘Who’s that masked man?’

Detroit Free Press

Things have been different for Hamidou Diallo ever since he put on the mask.

On Dec. 8, two days after Diallo suffered a face fracture and had to be fitted for a mask, he played a then-season high 29 minutes and scored an energetic 12 points off of the bench in a competitive overtime loss against the Washington Wizards.

He was promoted to the starting lineup on Dec. 12, and has been one of the Detroit Pistons’ most consistent players after falling out of the rotation early in the season.

PISTONS MAILBAG: Is Hamidou Diallo’s breakout for real or temporary?

In the last week, Diallo’s production has exploded. He has looked the part of a star two-way wing during a stretch that saw Detroit’s rotation depleted to just three players from the main roster in him, Saddiq Bey and Luka Garza. He’s averaging 10.4 points per game this season, but he’s scored a total of 93 points on 55.7% overall shooting during his last three games. His defensive numbers have also been strong.

“He’s playing at an All-Star level right now,” Bey said after Saturday’s 117-116 overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs. “He’s very confident and no matter what happens, make or miss, he’s going to stay aggressive. We need that for sure.”

With Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and other key players missing several games due to COVID-19 outbreak, Diallo and Bey have stepped up. Bey showed flashes of being an effective primary offensive option last season, but this has largely been new for Diallo, who hasn’t had many plays run for him. Injuries have forced the coaching staff to use Diallo as focal point, and he has risen to the challenge.

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Diallo has been one of Detroit’s most effective players at pressuring the rim, as well as one of the team’s best rebounders and perimeter defenders, since he arrived from the Oklahoma City Thunder ahead of the last season’s trade deadline. Those skills have all been present during his hot streak, and it’s why he could continue his high level of play once the Pistons get many of their key players back. He’s doing things he has already proven he can do, at a higher level.

For the season, Diallo is taking 45% of his shots at the rim and making them at a career-high 68% clip. He’s in the 91st percentile among NBA wings in the former category, and the 76th percentile for the latter, according to Cleaning The Glass. Diallo has emerged as one of the league’s most effective slashers at his size, and it’s the primary reason why he’s been an efficient scorer this past week while taking 70 shots through three games.

Of those 70 shots, 42 were taken at the rim. He made 25 of them, or 59.5%. As one of the most gifted athletes on the roster, Diallo knows how to use his strength and leaping ability to finish over defenses and through contact. While he has more turnovers (14) than assists (10) over his last three games, he has shown that he can find open shooters after the defense collapses.

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In normal times, Diallo won’t handle the ball as much as he has this past week. But the coaching staff wants to see him function as a secondary ball-handler. He has the tools to make strides in that area.

“He’s one of our best finishers at the rim and once he gets to the rim, he’s creative, he’s athletic, he’s powerful at the rim and he can finish up there,” Casey said after last Thursday’s practice. “That’s why this stretch of getting into the paint, collapsing the defense, I thought last night he did one of his best jobs of reading what we call the low man when he drives in there and does kick-outs. Those are the things I think he has really grown in because once he collapses the defense like that, the world is open.”

Diallo is also averaging 10 rebounds per game in his last three games, an eye-popping number for a 6-foot-5 wing. He’s a versatile defensive player who can force turnovers. He has at least five steals in three of his previous five games, including his previous two. His block percentage (1.1%), steal percentage (2.6%), and offensive and defensive rebounding percentages are all above the 85th percentile.

He’s played 128 minutes in the last three games, an average of 42.6 per. That number will decline as the Pistons get players back from injuries and health and safety protocols. But he’s firmly established himself as one of Detroit’s best rotation players. Regardless of how many minutes he plays, he’s proven that there’s more to his game than he showed earlier this season.

“That takes a lot of energy, the cutting, the attacking the paint, getting hit and knocked down,” Casey said. “That takes a toll on your body, and your energy level. But Hami, he doesn’t run out of energy. That young man runs hard and plays hard. He can run all day. He’s an anomaly as far as those extra minutes.”

Six Pistons could play on Monday after entering health and safety protocols

Eight Pistons have  enter the league’s health and safety protocols since Dec. 22. But six of them — Cunningham, Hayes, Josh Jackson, Saben Lee, Trey Lyles and Rodney McGruder — exited protocols late last week and weren’t listed on Sunday’s injury report. Stewart and Cory Joseph are still in protocols. 

That means that all six players could be available to play in Monday’s road game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Cunningham, Hayes, Stewart, Lee and McGruder have missed Detroit’s last four games, and Lyles, Joseph and Jackson have missed the last three. 

Three of Detroit’s Motor City Cruise call-ups — Cassius Stanley, Deividas Sirvydis and Trayvon Palmer — are back with the Cruise ahead of their regular season tip-off on Jan. 5. A fourth Cruise player, Derrick Walton Jr., was listed as “Not With Team” on Sunday.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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