Pistons’ Diallo carves out niche with versatility, athleticism on second unit

Detroit News

Detroit — Hamidou Diallo had an eyebrow-raising stretch during the first quarter of Thursday night’s win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Diallo hit three 3-pointers in the final three minutes, scoring nine of the Pistons’ final 13 points of the period. It’s not so surprising that he’d have a chunk of points in a short time span, but it’s the three shots beyond the arc, which is a season high for him in any game this season.

As he’s progressing through this season, Diallo is carving out a niche for himself in the Pistons’ second unit, not only as an energy guy, but also as a versatile scorer. Diallo is used to finding his way to the basket, but as he adds the outside shot to his game, he’s becoming more valuable.

“Hami has grown to allow himself to play that role and accept that role, to embrace it and be the MVP of that role, and he’s taken off with it,” coach Dwane Casey said. “He has done a great job with his approach, his seriousness about his job, and his maturity level in the game is off the charts from when he first got here last year.

“He’s the best on the team as far as athleticism and being able to get to the rim first and his second jumps. Him embracing his role and understanding what he can do and can’t do and staying in it and not trying to force things. He’s done an excellent job with that.”

Some of his rise in confidence can be traced back to the stretch of games where he joined the starting lineup, because Jerami Grant was out, and the roster was ravaged with COVID issues. Diallo took advantage of that opportunity, averaging 13.5 points and 5.8 rebounds.

More than that, though, he found out how he could plug into the lineup and be effective in different ways, with different combinations of players. Casey said there was some question about how the players would handle reverting back to their previous roles, but Diallo has flourished.

More: ‘I love it’: Former Michigan coach John Beilein thriving in role with Pistons

“That was a concern, how those guys are going to accept that role of starting and going back to the bench,” Casey said. “Those are little things, but they’re huge within a team concept. I thought Hami handled it really well, and he figured out that he can do the same thing with the second group.

“He doesn’t have to come out and force things, but let the game come to him. He’s done that, and now, he’s going against second-line players, and it’s really a lot easier. I’m so happy for Hami and where he is in his career. He’s right on path in his career path. That’s his role, and there’s no shame in having that role, accepting it and being good at it.”

Diallo sees that opportunity as a stepping stone to bigger things with the team, and not being locked into specific roles. When everyone is locked in and they don’t worry about who’s doing what as much as how they’re impacting winning, then they can reach higher heights.

“I feel like from day one, first unit or second unit, none of that really matters. All that matters is going out there and just trying to play hard and trying to affect winning,” Diallo said. “If you affect winning, it doesn’t matter when you’re out there — starting or second unit. With our roster, from top to bottom, anybody could start, and anybody could be in the second unit in any given game.

“It’s just about going out there and just trying to do the right thing and do things that should help winning. When you do things that help winning, it doesn’t matter how many minutes you play, or if you start, come off the bench or if you play five or 10 minutes.”

Intrigue in the final stretch

The Pistons’ last two wins have come against two good teams in the Eastern Conference, and through their struggles, the Pistons are showing signs that the final stretch of games might have some intrigue in them.

There’s a sense that they’re not just playing out the string and that they have a purpose. Through their struggles, there might be some light in the remainder of the season that they can carry into the offseason and help them ahead of next year.

Continuing to lock in and get some confidence-building wins can go a long way.

“I just felt like the last couple of games, we’ve been so dialed-in with attention to details offensively and defensively,” guard Rodney McGruder said. “I think that’s been a huge factor for us, that everyone’s locked it.

“You can tell when someone makes a mistake, somebody has their back, and that’s just guys being locked in to being all-in, making an extra pass, making an extra effort on defense, getting back in transition, making a smarter pass instead of making a home-run play. It’s just attention to detail all around.”

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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Celtics at Pistons

Tipoff: Noon Saturday, Little Caesars Arena

TV/radio: BSD/97.1

Outlook: The Celtics (35-26) have won nine of their last 10 games, with the lone loss coming against the Pistons (14-45) in the last game before the All-Star break. The surge has put Boston within two games of third place in the East.

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