When Cheick Diallo was chosen 33rd overall in the draft by the Los Angeles Clippers, it wasn’t that much of a shock.
When the New Orleans Pelicans traded their 39th and 40th picks for him (the players selected were David Michineau and Diamond Stone), I was a bit surprised. Since trading the draft rights to Nerlens Noel for Jrue Holiday, the Pelicans front office has pushed a win-now mandate, which has at times been detrimental to the team.
Trading for Diallo doesn’t necessarily signal a change in the team building philosophy, but it does show that they are willing to think long term, instead of simply building a team that may contend for the 8th seed in the Western Conference.
Coming back to Diallo, one question many fans are asking is if there is anything the former Jayhawk can contribute right away.
He nearly averaged a double-double throughout the Summer League, finishing top five in both rebounds and blocks. He plays with an energy that was missing from the Pelicans team for the majority of last season. Yet, it’s unlikely that the Malian-born big man sees anything more than spot minutes this season, barring injury of course.
At this point, he is just too raw of a player to seriously help a team that wants to win now.
Despite his impressive Las Vegas averages (10.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game), there were a lot of flaws in Diallo’s play, mostly on the mental side of things, which isn't too surprising considering his age and overall lack of in-game experience.
His biggest issue over the summer was the high propensity with which he chased blocks he had almost no chance of getting.
On this play, Fofana hasn’t even pump faked, yet alone attempted a shot, and Diallo is flying through the air, conceding an open layup.
Here, we do get a sample of Diallo’s impressive physical gifts, as he is able to block a shot (not an actual block, he was called for goaltending on the play) after coming all the way down from the top of the key.
Those physical gifts; speed, quickness, length, and leaping ability, are what make Diallo so intriguing as a prospect. He stands around 6’9 in shoes, but possesses a 7’4.5 wingspan, and those measurements have to make one believe that maybe one day, with an increased sense of timing, he’ll be able to consistently block those shots he likes to chase. Even on plays where he fails, the athleticism is on full display.
Only a little more than five minutes into his summer debut, we got to see just how effortless of a leaper he is. Despite how fundamentally unsound his defense is on this possession, the potential is there. If the Pelicans can teach him the game well enough to compliment his athletic tools, it’s not hard to see him becoming a dominant backline defender and shot blocker.
He’ll need some grooming on offense as well, but there is the potential to one day grow into a Tristan Thompson-esque role player. He isn’t as strong as Thompson by any stretch, but he does have the same sort of all out energy chasing offensive boards, and his superior wingspan may even allow him to convert putbacks at a higher rate, one day.
His touch around the basket is a bit better than average given his overall lack of polish, and he has shown the ability to finish with either hand. As is the case with all rookies, however, he does sometimes try to do a little too much. Still, just like on defense, even when he is doing something wrong on offense, you can often get a glimpse of his potential.
The Pelicans come out here looking to run a basic horns set. Notice Buddy Hield coming off the screen in the weak-side corner. The progression of the play (and the fact he is wide open) dictates that the ball should go to him, but instead Diallo decides to break it off, taking his man to the rim for an eventual floater. While the coaches would undoubtedly like to see the play executed, they are still able to get a taste of what Diallo brings to the court.
Diallo may be a few years away from being a meaningful contributor, but for the first time in a long time, the Pelicans have made a move for the future. For now, the second round pick can sit back, work on his game both mentally and physically, and continue to show flashes of what he can become.
As for the Pelicans, they went 1-4 in the summer league, but they have no reason to feel anything other than good after the relative success of the two players they walked out of the draft with. For a team that went from media darling to an injury-riddled mess seemingly on the verge of wasting years of their franchise player’s career, it must be nice to have two new promising pieces to pair with him.