Determined Diallo Aiming Sky High

By Nick Gallo | Digital Content Reporter | mailbag@okcthunder.com

LAS VEGAS -- It’s not just the way that he answers questions to media, approaches his teammates on the floor, hounds an opposing dribbler or confidently glides to the rim. There’s something in the air with Hamidou Diallo - a swagger but not cockiness, an expectation of expanded growth and responsibility but not entitlement.

Diallo seems to take things in stride, with a surehanded approach to all aspects of the NBA experience. When a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit the Las Vegas area on the eve of the Thunder’s first Summer League game, Diallo wasn’t fazed. He finished up his meal at Benihana’s, went back to the hotel and called it a night – prepared for another chance to improve the next day.

Heading into his second NBA season, Diallo has broader shoulders than he did a year ago and is taking on the load of being a leader of the Summer League group in Las Vegas in addition to elevating his own play. The 6-foot-5, 202-pound guard missed the 2019 playoff appearance due to arthroscopic elbow surgery, so this week is his first chance to get back on the floor in a competitive game environment.

“We went out there and had a good team effort,” Diallo said of the Thunder’s opening game against the Utah Jazz. “We just need to put it all together. For that being our first game out there together as a unit and me personally my first game in a long time coming back from battling things, I did okay.”

Though he wasn’t extremely efficient shooting the ball from the floor, Diallo notched 20 points to go with 5 rebounds, a steal and a block in the opening game on Saturday. Leading the team in points and field goal attempts, Diallo was aggressive in the open floor and on half court possessions to try and get downhill to the rim.

Watch: Growth, Improvement Focus for Diallo

On Saturday, Diallo was active cutting to the lane, creating dribble-drives and showing off some newly minted ball-handling skills. On one play, Diallo pushed the ball all the way down floor with his right hand and in order to stave off a defender, finished a scooping layup without ever bringing his left hand to the ball. Later, he emerged from a jump ball with the rock and brought the crowd to a roar with a monster two-handed dunk and followed it up with another slam just a moment later.

Though Diallo added a stop and pop jumper and a corner three-pointer, his first step explosiveness is the launching point for his game. As he continues to refine his finishing at the cup, the Thunder expects him to use that quickness and burst to carve gashes into defenses.

“Hami I thought he attacked the rim really well, just didn’t convert on layups, but he got five or six open looks there on that. I have a lot of confidence in him to finish those plays with his athleticism level,” said Dave Bliss, the Thunder’s Summer League Head Coach. “Obviously the shot, he’ll continue to work on that and see if we can get that to fall a little bit more.

“I’m just getting better each and every day, just trying to showcase the things that I’ve been working on since the offseason and since I’ve been back,” Diallo added. “I’m just trying to go out there and be the player that I know I am, try to get my teammates involved and try to be a leader as much as possible.”

In his rookie year, Diallo 45.5 percent from the floor – pretty solid for a first-year guard, but just 16.7 percent from three-point range and 61.0 percent from the free throw line. Shooting can often improve throughout an NBA career, but leaping ability like Diallo’s can’t be taught. In 2018-19, 13.9 percent of Diallo’s field goal attempts came on dunks as he flushed 22 home.

Where Diallo first made a mark in his opening campaign was on defensive end of the floor as he helped generate a plethora of “pick-sixes”, when Thunder on-ball pressure resulted in clogged passing lanes for the opposition. Those steals led to run outs and finishes in transition. On Saturday in Las Vegas, Diallo had a clear defensive focus to his game, particularly when guarding players off the ball who sought to come up to the perimeter to get involved in the offense.

“(Dribble hand-offs), I thought he did a good job of blowing them up, causing problems there on the defensive end. A lot of good things from Hami,” Bliss said.

“I’m just trying to be the best defender that I can be. I know that’s going to be a big, huge role for me coming into this year and that’s a big emphasis that me and (Head) Coach (Billy Donovan) have talked about multiple times,” said Diallo. “I’m just trying to go out there and be the best defender that I can be, try to be in coverages and try to sniff out things and try to learn the game as I’m doing all of that as well.”

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