Hamidou Diallo — UK’s potential “none-and-done” NBA Draft pick — might have been the biggest buzz prospect at last week’s NBA Combine in Chicago, an event where a guy jumping up in the air qualifies as a can’t-miss highlight for many.
Diallo, 18, was a wonder in the athletic testing portion of the Combine, registering the second-best vertical leap — 44.5 inches — in the history of the showcase and faring among the best in the shuttle run and three-quarter-court sprint tests.
He didn’t play any actual basketball, however, and it’s unclear what, if anything, he really did to improve his stock in next month’s draft.
“I don’t think he helped or hurt himself,” Jonathan Givony, an analyst with DraftExpress.com, told the Herald-Leader. “There really wasn’t much to go on. So I don’t think it really affected anything either way.
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“The teams I’ve talked to, they don’t know much about him. I guess it’s just going to come down to these workouts now. Whatever he can show there. Because I don’t know what they’re going to draft him off of right now.”
DraftExpress.com’s post-Combine mock draft placed Diallo as the No. 35 overall pick — five spots out of first-round territory and just two spots above where it had the would-be Wildcat before he became the toast of Twitter last week with that vertical leap.
Much has been written about Diallo and his supposedly-on-the-rise draft stock since those athletic drills, but NBA front-office types have the same questions about his actual game that they had before last week’s Combine.
“The 44-inch vertical — it’s not something that makes NBA teams say, ‘Wow! I have to draft that guy.’ They want to see more than that,” Givony said. “I think people on Twitter were going a little bit crazy when that happened. But there’s limited value on the vertical leap, on the whole athleticism testing. It’s just another thing that they look at, and they want to see how it translates to games.”
Anyone who knew anything at all about Diallo knew of his freakish length — a 6-foot-5 player with a 6-11-plus wingspan — and athleticism before the Combine, but he’s never played college basketball and hasn’t played in an organized game at any level since December.
He practiced from January to March with the Wildcats, but NBA scouts who watched him then weren’t overly impressed. Diallo, who graduated from high school last spring but opted to stay in prep school to start the 2016-17 season, attracted NBA scouts to some of his games with Putnam Science Academy (Conn.) in the fall, but they weren’t blown away by those performances either.
Outside shooting has long been the biggest knock on Diallo’s game. He shot at about 20 percent from three-point range on the Nike circuit last summer and wasn’t much better for his high school team. His coaches and teammates at UK this winter have said Diallo greatly improved his outside stroke in his short time as a practice player with the Cats, but scouts have other questions about his game.
Givony mentioned ball handling, defensive awareness and “motor” as areas of concern for some who have watched him play, especially at the beginning of this past season.
Obviously, Diallo didn’t do anything to alleviate those concerns at the Combine.
His opportunity to change minds could come this week, when he’s scheduled for individual workouts for several NBA teams.
Givony said some teams can be “very, very influenced” by such workouts, and — the bright side for Diallo, if he does keep his name in the draft — it obviously takes only one of those teams to decide it’s going to roll the dice and gamble a first-round pick on a relatively mysterious player.
“Some of them might think that they’re pulling a fast one on everybody else by being able to draft him wherever they decide to draft him, which could be anywhere at this point,” he said.
Realistically, Diallo seems to be a late first-round pick, at best.
If he were to return to UK — he has until May 24 to remove his name from the draft and retain college eligibility — he could go much higher in the 2018 draft, which is perceived to be weaker on overall talent, and make more money on his rookie contract.
Given a hypothetical scenario in which Diallo returns to Lexington, shoots 30 percent to 35 percent from three-point range and shows some defensive intensity as a college freshman next season, Givony said this:
“If he comes back and becomes that good of a shooter and he plays extremely hard on defense, then, yeah, he’s definitely going to be in lottery contention.”
This week’s workouts are likely to be the deciding factor. After those will come Calipari’s sitdown with Diallo to offer his own stay-or-go advice.
The UK coach, in an interview with ESPN during Combine coverage last week, guessed that it probably would take the likelihood of Diallo being chosen in the 20 to 22 range — “something like that,” Calipari said — for him to tell Diallo that it’s “time to go.”
As of now, UK doesn’t know what Diallo is going to do, the Herald-Leader has been told, and — although just about everyone seems to have an opinion — the only person who truly knows which outcome is most likely might be the player himself. Everyone else will have to wait.
“There’s a lot of speculation out there,” Givony said. “Hamidou is one of the guys that keeps things as close to the vest as any player you’ll find. Throughout his recruiting process and his decision of where to play high school and where to play AAU — he keeps everything very, very close to the vest. Everybody can speculate about everything. But I’m not sure it’s going to be particularly accurate.”