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Stiffs NBA draft series: Cheick Diallo

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Diallo, the Kansas big man from Mali, is one of the more intriguing upside players in this draft - and a Rorschach test for how you like your incredibly raw players packaged.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Stiffs will be covering all of the top prospects in the 2016 NBA draft in our Stiffs NBA draft series. Check back daily for video, stats, and analysis of all of the projected first round prospects.


Cheick Diallo

Stats

Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers Field Goal % Three Point % Free Throw %
3.0 2.5 0.0 0.3 0.9 0.6 56.0 0.0 55.6


Strengths

Length and athleticism - Diallo is not all that tall, around 6'9 in shoes, but that 7'4 wingspan and 9 foot standing reach combine with his mobile leaping ability to give him quite a bit of length in both perimeter and help defense.  The guy pro-rates to 4.6 blocks and 13.5 rebounds per 40 minutes.  The sample size is too small to take those numbers seriously as far as translating to the next level, but when Cheick is on the court he can make an impact.

Motor - taking a cue from our own Kenneth Faried, Diallo can sprint down the floor with any big man, so his transition game will be strong at the next level. He likes to hustle and many big men will struggle to keep up with him (as will a lot of wings). He's a willing screener even if that part of his game needs polish and will hedge or switch his assignments with decisive speed.  Everything he does he does at full speed - he just needs to learn to do more things.

Good hands - he can catch bounce passes in traffic, grab every rebound he touches.  He even has some nice touch around the rim for a guy with so little basketball experience. He's no stonehands like Timofey Mozgov has been, and is aware of his dribble in transition. If he gets the ball near the hoop he'll finish.

Weaknesses

Lack of a jumpshot - like most big men in this draft, Diallo doesn't have much of a shot yet (though it does look better now after some offseason work than in his limited minutes for Kansas).  Diallo will get most of his points on putbacks and in transition rather than from set shots, much like a certain Nuggets power forward we're all familiar with. There's nothing wrong with having a player who doesn't need plays run for him, but he'll have to do some damage in the roll part of the pick-and-roll while he works on free throws and getting at least a 10 foot shot. His free throws were similarly poor this year, but he took so few shots in general that his ultimate shooting upside is undetermined.

R.A.W. - Diallo is as raw as any player in this draft.  A year with Bill Self at Kansas should have helped, but the ridiculous eligibility debacle kept him from getting the time early in the season that he needed, and Self did not trust him with more minutes later in the year.  On the plus side, that means his ceiling is unknown.  His future skillset is in the eye of the beholder, not on his college tape.  The downside to that is a complete inability to see how he might match up with pro-ready players, and the surety that next year he is unlikely to get many NBA minutes either as he works on his body to be able to handle paint duty without fouling.

No passing skills - the ball only goes one way on offense with Diallo: from him to the hoop, for better or worse.  He had one assist in 202 minutes played, against 17 turnovers.  That's something that can be addressed, but he's not going to be Nikola Jokic or even Jusuf Nurkic when it comes to passing the ball out of the post.

Pro Comparisons (Best to Worst):

Emeka Okafor - Okafor played more center than Diallo might (although Cheick would be an interesting small-ball 5) but they have the same wingspan (7'4) and rely on shot-blocking and defense to carry water for them while the offense comes around.  Okafor's injuries cut into his upside but he was still a very good player in the NBA, and Diallo's a better athlete.  Diallo's upside is Kenneth Faried's athleticism and motor combined with Okafor's shot-blocking and defense.  That's an intriguing mesh.

Bison Dele (aka Brian Williams) - Dele had a bit more mass than Diallo, but he was also 22 when he got to the league - Diallo has time to fill out.  He was also a raw player at Diallo's age, having been a track athlete as a kid, but could be a really solid piece when in the right frame of mind and helped Chicago win a title.  He had other things going on off the court that capped his potential.


Hasheem Thabeet - Not in size, just in bustability as an untutored player.  If Cheick can't figure out how to play organized basketball and is just an athletic and well-intentioned player operating on his own, he won't be long for the NBA game.

Fit with the Nuggets

The Nuggets could use an athletic, shot-blocking 4 who can play a small-ball 5.  Whether that's Diallo or not is up for debate, but his moderate upside would see him following Clint Capela's path (another non-passing, rebounding-and-shot-blocking dynamo and a favorite of several of the Stiffs).  Diallo might only be a bench player or a matchup-specific deployment, but as a more defensive version of Faried that can still be a very useful bench piece.  Diallo will need a lot of grooming, but could be exactly the piece we need in a year or two.

Projected Draft Spot

SB Nation - Not in the first round

Draft Express - 23 (Boston)

CBS Sports (Vecenie) - 30 (Golden State)

Bleacher Report (Wasserman) - 24 (Philadelphia)

NBADraft.net - 14 (Chicago)

Final Thoughts

I have a soft spot for motor guys.  Some of those guys never turn into anything, some of them eventually stagnate but are still useful pieces like Faried, and some of them turn into Ben Wallace.  Diallo's exceedingly brief college career didn't shed any extra light on where he will fall on that spectrum, but the Nuggets currently have those three first-round picks.  Using the 19th pick on Diallo would not be the worst idea... as long as Denver is willing to put in the coaching time and be patient with him.  He almost certainly needs a year in the D-League to work on his game by getting structured court time, and another year to figure out his place on Denver's roster.

Hopefully his journey to impact player is faster than Hassan Whiteside's, who had some of those same problems with getting his affairs in order.  But athletic shotblockers who clean up the boards and have huge motors are the kinds of raw risks I'm fine with taking at the right price.  If they're all kept, at least one of Denver's picks will need to be stashed either overseas or in the D-League so that they can keep growing without playing time in a Nuggets uniform. Not all the picks will be safe ones with high floors - Diallo is certainly an option for that high-ceiling reach selection.