Diallo bounces back to hit the home stretch with Pistons on a positive note
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
The Pistons have led the NBA in bench scoring for most of the season despite the fact it’s been a rotating cast of players comprising Dwane Casey’s second unit. Nobody has done more to solidify his role among that unit – or for next season and beyond, for that matter – than Frank Jackson.
Jackson put up another 18-point outing off the bench in Monday’s win over Atlanta, leading the Pistons to a whopping 44-22 edge in bench scoring. The second unit was so effective, Casey never had to summon his starters after they rotated out of the game late in the third quarter.
This time, Jackson’s wing man was Hamidou Diallo, who scored 14 points to get himself out of a scoring tailspin that had seen Diallo score 20 points on 6 of 34 shooting over the previous six games. With 10 games left in the season, getting Diallo back on track is among the top objectives remaining for the Pistons to end a season that’s been marked by the positive development of so many of the young players acquired on first-year general manager Troy Weaver’s watch.
Diallo came from Oklahoma City, where he was also acquired on Weaver’s watch as the 45th pick in the 2018 draft after one season at Kentucky. He arrived with a groin injury that delayed his debut nearly two weeks from the March 13 trade that sent Svi Mykhailiuk to the Thunder.
After one game to knock off the rust of a monthlong absence, Diallo put together back-to-back 19-point games that underscored the elite athleticism and dogged defense that enticed the Pistons into trading Mykhailiuk, who possessed the one trait – elite 3-point shooting – that was already in short supply for the Pistons.
So to see Diallo get back to that level of effectiveness was a welcome sign for Casey and the Pistons.
“It’s very difficult to come to a new situation and understand the defense, understand the offense, mainly the terminology,” Casey said. “Once you settle in, you probably start thinking too much instead of playing. But it’s difficult. Some guys get acclimated quicker than others.”
He admitted after Monday’s game that the transition has come in fits and starts for him after spending his first two-plus NBA seasons only with the Thunder.
“It’s been a roller coaster. A lot of highs, a lot of lows,” Diallo said. “That’s the whole NBA. I’m just trying to adapt, fit in, doing what the coaches need me to do out there. It’s been good overall, I would say.”
The good news with Diallo is his value isn’t necessarily tied to his scoring. In Saturday’s game at Indiana, he went 1 of 5 and scored four points but grabbed 11 rebounds. At 6-foot-5 with a wingspan of nearly 7 feet, Diallo has the physical tools – and the mentality – to be an incredibly disruptive defender who is a force in transition. When Diallo goes to the rim, he gets there in a heartbeat.
If he and Jackson are going to be the wing tandem with the second unit, the Pistons are not going to lack for athleticism. At the 2017 NBA draft combine – Diallo decided to return to Kentucky, where he was held out of the 2016-17 season after an NCAA violation for accepting free training sessions – Diallo and Jackson ranked 1-2 in vertical jump, Diallo at 44½ and Jackson at 42.
Diallo amplifies his athleticism by the way he plays – 100 mph. It sometimes needs to be harnessed when he has the ball in his hands, but there’s a lot to work with there.
“The one thing he does is play hard,” Casey said. “He needs to slow down a little bit offensively, let the game come to him. But that’s the learning process. He’s still a young kid. His strength is his speed and athleticism.”
Diallo, like Jackson still only 22, was thrilled by the trade to the Pistons based on his relationship with Weaver and what he knew about Casey and his way of empowering young players. Also like Jackson, Diallo will be a restricted free agent this off-season with the full expectation that he’ll sign this summer and be back. Finishing the season strong off of the springboard provided by Monday’s win will give him peace of mind to carry into the summer.
“The past couple of games it’s been up and down, but it’s just staying with the process,” Diallo said. “Staying confident in myself, having people around me confident in me. Adapting to a coach, adapting to a new atmosphere, adapting to a role – it’s all been tough. But it’s been great and a great learning experience. Trying to turn that page, for sure.”