2020-21 Rewind: Diallo’s tantalizing total package makes him a big part of Pistons future

When Troy Weaver spoke at season’s end and said, “The assets for the Pistons moving forward are all in house – it’s internal development and growth that will be our focus this summer,” it was easy to draw the inference he was referring largely to the four rookies drafted last November and thrown into the fray immediately without benefit of a typical rookie orientation.

He could just as easily have been talking about Hamidou Diallo. At 22, Diallo showed flashes – thunderbolts, at times – of the potential NBA scouts have seen in him since he came on their radar as a 15-year-old on the AAU circuit. In 20 games with the Pistons, Diallo showed the athleticism, toughness and explosive bursts that make him a potentially devastating defender and holy terror in transition and as an attacker.

Four times in 20 games with the Pistons, Diallo went into double figures in rebounds as a perimeter player. Over his last six games, he averaged 18 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.3 free throws a game while shooting 53.3 percent from the field. Here’s a look at Diallo’s season and what lies ahead:

PROFILE: 6-foot-5 wing, 22 years old, 3 NBA seasons2020-21 STATS: 11.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists per gameSTATUS: Diallo will be a restricted free agent this summer

DID YOU KNOW: Diallo took a postgraduate year at Putnam Academy in Connecticut but midway through the 2016-17 season left to enroll at Kentucky in January. He didn’t play for Kentucky’s 2017 team that reached the elite eight and attended the 2017 NBA draft combine, but decided to return to Kentucky for his freshman season despite the general consensus that he would have been a strong candidate to be picked late in the first round.

A LOOK BACK: Diallo was highly recruited after his AAU exploits, especially with the high-profile New York Rens of Nike’s EYBL. A five-star recruit, Diallo moved immediately into Kentucky’s starting lineup for all 37 games in 2017-18 for a team whose five leading scorers – including lottery picks Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and P.J. Washington – were freshmen. Diallo declared for the 2018 draft and was taken 45th overall by Oklahoma City. He lit up the 2017 combine’s athletic testing before pulling out of that draft, posting the top vertical jump at 44½ inches – current teammate Frank Jackson was second at 42 inches – and finishing second to Jackson in the shuttle run, third in the sprint and in the top 10 in lane agility. As a rookie on a team led by Russell Westbrook and Paul George, Diallo played in 51 games and started three for the Thunder. His playing time nearly doubled, to 19 minutes a game, in Diallo’s second season after the Thunder traded both Westbrook and George. He averaged 6.9 points and 3.6 rebounds a game.

THE SEASON THAT WAS: Diallo took a step forward in his third season in Oklahoma City, averaging 11.9 points in 24 minutes a game for the 32 games he played with the Thunder before the March 13 trade that sent him to the Pistons in exchange for Svi Mykhailiuk – taken three spots after Diallo in the 2018 draft – and a 2027 second-round pick. In particular, Diallo showed he could create shots not just for himself but for others, as his assists per 36 minutes more than doubled from 1.4 in 2019-20 to 3.6 with the Thunder in 2020-21. Diallo’s athleticism and tremendous length – his wingspan is 6-foot-11¼ – make him a force attacking the rim as evidenced by his 5.9 free throws per 36 minutes. An infrequent and inefficient 3-point shooter for his career in Oklahoma City – Diallo shot 26.2 percent from the arc with the Thunder over two-plus seasons while taking only 16 percent of his shots from distance – he showed promise after joining the Pistons, hitting 39 percent while taking 24 percent of his shots from three.

A LOOK AHEAD: Diallo was drafted by an Oklahoma City front office in which Troy Weaver’s influence in draft matters was pronounced and acquired by the Pistons on Weaver’s watch. There’s little doubt the Pistons made the trade for Diallo with full intention to retain him through his restricted free agency this off-season. Diallo checks the boxes that Weaver has prioritized in player acquisition since becoming Pistons general manager nearly a year ago: athletic, long and tenacious with the demeanor required to be an elite defender. Weaver, in harmony with Dwane Casey, puts a premium on players with a wide competitive streak and Diallo fits that bill, too. The sample size of 41 3-point shots isn’t a lot to go on, but the fact Diallo got up more and made them at a 39 percent clip in a Casey offense that’s designed to produce desirable 3-point shots in bulk is certainly a positive sign – and one that could induce some NBA suitor to put forth an offer sheet that could test the Pistons resolve to retain Diallo. But at 22 and with the toolbox Diallo brings to the table, smart money is on him being on the roster for opening night 2021-22 and a rotation mainstay for the foreseeable future in Detroit.

MONEY QUOTE: “Hami, he fits what we’re trying to do here. Tremendous mindset, tremendous competitor. Defensive mindset, athletic and he brings it. You can never have too many guys that have that mindset and that competitiveness. As we’re going through this process, we’re looking for those types of players. Great things to come ahead for Hami.” – Troy Weaver after the March trade to add Diallo to the Pistons