The guy with a pretty compelling case as the Pistons best player over the past six weeks wasn’t in the rotation seven weeks ago. Explain that, Hamidou Diallo.
“Stay ready so you don’t got to get ready,” Diallo said after Monday’s loss to Boston when an emerging pattern held: The Pistons were a better team with Diallo on the floor than on the bench. “That’s been my mentality since I came in the league. Nothing’s been given to me. Everything’s been worked for.”
In seven of nine December games, including five straight, Diallo never left the Detroit bench. Kevin Knox’s 3-point proficiency earned him playing time that came at Diallo’s expense. In an era when a preponderance of players thrive or fail on the reliability of their 3-point shot, Diallo has forged a different path. He’s taken 18 3-point shots all season, zero in his last 13 games.
“I’m just doing what the team needs me to do,” Diallo said. “This is the role I’m playing right now. Who’s to know what I’m going to be playing in two days, three days. A month ago I wasn’t even playing. Just live in the moment and just take what the defense gives you out there. I don’t feel like anybody’s stopping me from getting to what I want to get to. I put in a lot of work on 3-point shooting and all of that and I’m still putting in the work every day.”
But because he’s right – nobody’s stopping him from getting to what he wants to get to: the rim – Diallo isn’t settling for 3-point heaves. Dwane Casey is fond of saying you can’t make enough twos in today’s NBA to keep up, but Diallo is putting that to the test. He’s shooting 68 percent since Jan. 1 and that puts him in the company of centers who are generally dunking lob passes or put-backs. Only four players in the league have shot a higher percentage during that time and none of them are 6-foot-5.
Again in Monday’s loss, Diallo ended up in the black. In a game the Pistons lost by 12, they were two points better than Boston during Diallo’s 17 minutes.
“They brought us a lot of energy,” Casey said of a bench unit for which Diallo has become a central figure. “I thought (Isaiah) Livers and Hami brought us back and got us within six or seven. It was their energy.”
That’s Diallo’s defining characteristic. Has been since he was a much-hyped New York recruit who spent one season at Kentucky. His ability to harness that energy into a force for good instead of a force for chaos has been the challenge for Diallo, but he’s been on point for nearly two months now. Since rejoining the rotation, Diallo owns the best net rating on the roster – the difference between the Pistons efficiency with Diallo on vs. off the court – at plus 2.9. In 19 minutes a game, Diallo has averaged 10.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals while shooting 65.1 percent.
Through the ups and downs inevitable with a team as young as the Pistons – 10 players 24 or under on the roster and four key players 21 and younger even with Cade Cunningham missing all but a dozen games – Diallo has been a rock of reliability since his reinstatement.
“I feel like I’m a plug-and-fit guy on any team,” he said. “With any group of guys, I just feel like I can adapt to any different needs. Do I look at it as a skill set? No, I just look at it as who I am. People say you’re a good person. When you’re a good person, you understand different situations you’re in.”
About that last part. Yeah, the Pistons love the fiber of Diallo. When Killian Hayes was asked about Diallo’s impact over the past several weeks, he both began and ended his response with a testament to Diallo’s character.
“He’s just a great teammate. Always bringing joy, playing with a free mind. He’s going to play hard. He brings 100 percent. He’s a great slasher, runs the floor all the time. But most of all, he’s a great teammate.”
“Not even teammate, I take pride in being a great person,” Diallo said. “Because this game is only played for so long. I was raised to not take anything for granted and to understand when you’re in a situation and how to thrive in that situation. I look at everybody in the locker room, I look at everybody as brothers first and basketball will take care of itself. This is just a small part of our life.”
If he keeps playing it the way he’s played it for the past six weeks, it’s going to be a part of his life well into his future.