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BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - FEBRUARY 15: Hamidou Diallo #6 of the Detroit Pistons reacts after scoring against the Boston Celtics during the fourth quarter at the TD Garden on February 15, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Brian Fluharty/Getty Images)

Season Rewind: Diallo’s strong finish sets summer of decision for him, Pistons

In an NBA era where the ability to shoot from the 3-point line is the swing skill that seemingly determines everyone’s fate, Hamidou Diallo found a niche by leaning into ignoring the shot.

Diallo established himself as an elite recruit for his electric athleticism, choosing Kentucky over offers from other national bluebloods and leaving after his freshman season. Pairing elite athleticism with consistent energy earned Diallo a role as a mainstay of Dwane Casey’s bench, which was one of the NBA’s most productive units when the Pistons were reasonably healthy and featured Alec Burks as veteran scoring anchor.

In his fifth season, Diallo added an important third element to athleticism and energy: self-discipline. The elimination of some of the mistakes that held Diallo back made him a more effective player and sets him up ahead of his free agency this summer.

Here's a look Diallo’s past, present and future:

PROFILE: 6-foot-5 wing, 24 years old, 5 NBA seasons

2022-23 STATS: 9.3 points and 3.5 rebounds on 57.3 percent shooting in 18 minutes a game

STATUS: Diallo is a pending unrestricted free agent after the completion of the two-year contract he signed with the Pistons in July 2021

DID YOU KNOW?: Diallo owns a gold medal, earned as a member of the 2016 USA Basketball team that won the U16 World Cup. Diallo averaged 7.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 17 minutes a game for a loaded roster that included several future NBA stars, including Trae Young, Markelle Fultz, Michael Porter Jr., P.J. Washington, Jarrett Allen, Mo Bamba and Kevin Huerter. Diallo was seventh on the team in minutes per game and sixth in points per game.

A LOOK BACK: Diallo joined Kentucky in January 2017 after a late reclassification, but didn’t debut for the Wildcats until that fall after exploring entry into the 2017 NBA draft, where he was widely considered a likely first-round pick based on his USA Basketball background and athletic profile. Diallo averaged 10 points in 25 minute a game for Kentucky as a freshman for a 26-11 team that lost to Kansas State in the Sweet 16. He entered the 2018 NBA draft and was taken with the 45th overall pick by Oklahoma City, where current Pistons general manager Troy Weaver was then assistant GM. As a rookie on a 49-33 team that landed the No. 6 playoff seed, Diallo played 10.3 minutes a game, nearly doubling that total in his second year. Midway through his third year, Diallo was traded to the Pistons – now run by Weaver – for Svi Mykhailiuk and a 2027 second-round pick. In 2021-22, his first season with the Pistons, Diallo averaged 11.0 points and 4.8 rebounds in 22 minutes a game, making 29 of his 44 career starts.

THE SEASON THAT WAS: Diallo’s 17.8 minutes per game averaged in 2022-23 were the lowest since his rookie season, but Diallo seemed to find his niche in December after temporarily losing his grip on a rotation spot. Diallo didn’t play in five consecutive games, but from Christmas on played his best basketball before suffering a grade 2 right ankle sprain on March 6 that ended his season. Over a 28-game span, Diallo averaged 12.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 21 minutes per game while shooting 62.1 percent. He was a menace in transition and excelled as a cutter and finisher while eschewing the 3-point shot. Diallo had always struggled to shoot from distance – he’s a career 27.4 percent shooter from three and hit 23.8 percent in 2022-23 – on low volume, but he essentially stopped taking them. Over those 28 games, Diallo hit 3 of 8 triples and went a stretch of 19 games without taking one.

A LOOK AHEAD: It’s anyone’s guess whether the Pistons and Diallo will run it back a second time around in free agency. The key difference as opposed to 2021 is Diallo will be an unrestricted free agent this time, eliminating the major impediment to movement that comes with being a restricted free agent as he was two years ago. Diallo’s unique profile could make him an attractive bench piece for a contender without a ton of needs or cap space but with an interest in someone exactly like him – a high-energy, athletic wing whose cutting and finishing would complement 3-point shooters. That could mean a quick resolution to Diallo’s free agency before the Pistons, who figure to have a lot of moving pieces given the amount of cap space they’ll take into free agency, can get around to the finishing touches that could include Diallo.

MONEY QUOTE: “He’s just a great teammate, always bringing joy, playing with a free mind. He’s always going to play hard. He brings 100 percent. Runs the floor all the time. But most of all, he’s a great teammate.” – Killian Hayes in February on Hamidou Diallo