How Detroit Pistons’ Hamidou Diallo became apex NBA finisher despite being 6 feet 5

Detroit Free Press

TORONTO — Hamidou Diallo has been one of the Detroit Pistons‘ most unique players since general manager Troy Weaver traded for him ahead of the 2021 deadline.

He’s a lob finisher and second-chance threat on a roster that, before this season, lacked athleticism. He’s one of the NBA’s better rebounders for his 6-foot-5 size. And his energetic style of play helps him stand out, even as his minutes have fluctuated.

But Diallo has never been more unique, or more consistent, than this season. He’s enjoying a career season, though his 8.7 points per game are his lowest total since he arrived in Detroit from Oklahoma City. Yet his field goal percentage of 58.7% is the best of his career by a wide margin. His previous high was 49.6%, set last season.

A deeper dive into the numbers reveals a wing who has capitalized on his strengths, and minimized his weaknesses. The result? Diallo has established himself as one of the NBA’s most uniquely efficient players and is in the midst of his best stretch. Diallo is a pending unrestricted free agent this offseason, and making a strong case to secure his future.

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Since Dec. 26, Diallo is averaging 11.9 points on a sterling 67.1% shooting. His offensive game resembles a big man more than a wing, as he takes most of his shots in the paint and finishes strong. In that 21-game stretch, he’s the only player in the league shorter than 6-7 making at least 60% of his shots (minimum 10 games played). Among all players, Diallo’s shooting percentage since Dec. 26 ranks 17th.

His 58.7% percentage on the season leads all players under 6-7, and he has gotten better as the year has progressed. Diallo might be the NBA’s best undersized paint scorer.

“I just feel like I can do that every night once I’m on the court,” Diallo said after Sunday’s 119-118 loss to the Toronto Raptors, when he scored 18 points on 8-for-11 (72.7%) shooting. “I don’t really get into the numbers or whatnot. It’s great to know that those numbers are there, but I feel like anytime I’m on the court and in a groove, I feel like that’s possible for me. I just try to go out there and take what the defense gives me and go out there on both sides of the court.”

Diallo’s efficiency is due to multiple factors. He’s naturally good scoring in the paint, thanks to his explosive leaping ability and wingspan in the neighborhood of 6-10. He has produced a reel of highlight blocks and dunks during his two years in Detroit over parts of three seasons. The 2019 Slam Dunk Contest champion has always lived at the rim.

He has honed in on that aspect of his game this season. The Pistons have played him at power forward and center at times due to lack of depth up front, and he looks comfortable. He can operate in the dunker spot and finish over bigger defenders, and has long been an instinctive cutter who thrives in transition.

Of his 293 shot attempts this season, 156 — more than half — have come in the restricted area, according to NBA Stats. He has made 116 (74.4%) of those shots. The league average in the restricted area is 66.6%.

Couple that with his near-abandonment of his 3-pointer, and it’s easier to see why he has been so efficient. Diallo is a career 27.7% 3-point shooter, well below the league average of 35.9%. Since Dec. 26, he has taken five 3s. His last attempt was on Jan. 4. Sunday was his 16th straight game without an attempt.

“Discipline,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said Sunday of Diallo’s consistency. “He’s become more disciplined, his maturity. Not doing crazy things. Some of his recklessness is good at some points. It brings energy. But he’s learned when to do it and when not to do it, and that’s really helped. It’s helped his shooting, his shot selection.”

Casey said he never told Diallo not to attempt 3s.

“His gift is slashing,” Casey said. “He’s one of the elite cutters in our league. Let’s make sure we take advantage of that. Take a step back from the 3. But if you’re open, take it. He’s been really disciplined when he takes it, when he cuts and when he attacks the rim. That’s why his shooting percentage is so high. He’s done a good job with his shot selection.”

Diallo has had highs with the Pistons, mixed in with lows. He scored 93 points in a three-game stretch last season as the team managed a COVID-19 outbreak. He has also fallen out of the rotation, including earlier this season when he appeared in two of nine games he was available for from Dec. 1-18.

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“I think my comfort level has been up and down,” Diallo said. “There’s been times where I’ve been in the rotation, there’s been times I haven’t been in the rotation. It’s all about staying with it, staying locked in and not focusing on those times where those times are dark. The NBA season is like a roller coaster, I always say, and you just have to stay locked in.”

Diallo’s past two months haven’t showcased anything new in his game. He’s simply doing what he has always done, every night, with a greater level of focus. Consistency hasn’t always been his strength, but his approach this season has solidified his place in the rotation.

“I feel like any time the opportunities have been there, I’ve gone out there and shown and proved that I do belong, and just to have that mentality,” he said. “I feel like I’m a kid who always remembered that I’m not supposed to be here. Every time I’m on the court, I don’t take that for granted.”

Catch our podcast “The Pistons Pulse” every Tuesday morning at 5 and on demand on freep.com or wherever you listen to podcasts. See all of our podcasts and daily voice briefings at freep.com/podcasts.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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