Hamidou Diallo offers high risk, high reward for Atlanta Hawks

Dec 18, 2016; Ft. Meyers, FL, USA; Putnam Science Mustangs gaurd Hamidou Diallo (3) handles the ball against St Anthony Yellowjackets during the first half at Suncoast Credit Union Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 18, 2016; Ft. Meyers, FL, USA; Putnam Science Mustangs gaurd Hamidou Diallo (3) handles the ball against St Anthony Yellowjackets during the first half at Suncoast Credit Union Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

Hamidou Diallo would be a steal for the Atlanta Hawks if they selected him with the 31st overall pick. Is this a real possibility?

If you’ll remember, NBA teams used to draft players directly out of high school. Although, the Atlanta Hawks didn’t really get in on the fun that often. Jonathan Abrams’ book Boys Among Men chronicles the ups and downs of that period masterfully and is worth a read (or two).

There was a time when NBA scouts didn’t have the luxury of seeing every top prospect play an entire season of college basketball. The most skilled prospects often took their talents directly to the NBA.

It made scouting difficult, but this system produced superstars like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, and LeBron James. Taking a player like that was risky, but it also provided some benefits.

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Imagine a player developing their game from start to finish under the watchful eye of your organization. In theory, you can groom that player and help them reach their full potential without the risk of them learning bad habits in college or elsewhere.

The NBA’s age limit has mostly done away with that sort of thing. Players have to spend at least one season after high school in college or overseas before they’re eligible for the NBA Draft.

That rule change has given way to the “one and done” era. You know how the story goes. A player spends one season in college, establishes themselves as an elite prospect, then jets off to the NBA.

One of the latest “one and dones” from the University of Kentucky, the most popular destination for players that plan to spend just one season in school,  isn’t quite a one and done. He’s also not making the jump straight from high school. Hamidou Diallo is more of a “none and done”, as Tate Frazier and Mark Titus from The Ringer dubbed him on an episode of their podcast “T’d Up”.

Diallo enrolled at Kentucky in January 2017, but never played in an actual game. He did get to practice with one of the best teams in the country. That time spent going up against some of the most talented players in college basketball, and being coached by John Calipari, had to be beneficial.

Much like Thon Maker in the 2016 NBA Draft, Diallo’s unique situation makes him a bit of an unknown quantity. Teams know that he is talented due to his prep career, he wouldn’t have ended up at Kentucky if he wasn’t an elite prospect, but they haven’t seen him go through the rigors of a college basketball season.

Does that matter? That’s what we’re going to find out. John Calipari thinks not playing may actually be working in Diallo’s favor. Calipari spoke about the mystery surrounding Diallo in Adam Zagoria’s profile of Diallo in The New York Times. Calipari’s wry sense of humor is on full display when speaking about the idea of a player being selected in the lottery without playing a game for his college team.

"“They don’t know,” he said. “Well, don’t show them. They all like you without watching you. Good. The more you don’t play, the more they like you, the more they’re impressed.”“If someone takes him in the lottery I will retire. Four months, doesn’t play, lottery pick, I’m done. I’m stopping,” he said."

Diallo is a 6-foot-5 wing that recently produced the second highest vertical leap measurement in the history of the NBA Draft Combine. His wingspan was also measured at 6-foot-11. Those measurements are enough to make NBA teams salivate.

I’d be lying if I said I knew much about Diallo’s game on the court. I don’t make a habit of watching high school basketball, and I don’t frequent basketball practices at the University of Kentucky, so Diallo’s skillset largely remains a mystery to me.

Thankfully, there are smart people around the world that have seen Diallo play. A few of those people have posted their thoughts about him on the internet. What a world we live in, with limitless information at our fingertips, always pushing our intellect to new heights. We also have memes of chefs putting salt on food in a sultry ways, but that’s not important.

Anyway, for analysis on Diallo I’ll defer to folks that have seen more than just random highlight videos.

Here’s what Chris Stone of FanSided’s The Step Back had to say about Diallo in his latest mock draft.

"Kentucky guard Hamidou Diallo did the thing that everyone knew he would do at the NBA Combine last week: He tested out of this world athletically. Diallo’s max vertical leap of 44.5 inches topped the next highest leap by 2.5 inches. He had the 10th highest lane agility time, did the second fastest shuttle run and was third in the three quarter court sprint. That’s a nice canvas to build a basketball player from and that’s exactly what will have to happen with Diallo as he’s one of the rawest prospects in the draft.While Diallo’s athleticism translates on the court into transition possessions, straight line drives and occasional defensive dominance, he lacks some of the more fundamental skills that he’ll need to succeed in the NBA. The 19-year old’s ball-handling is far from advanced with his ability to change direction being pretty limited. He’s also a poor shooter beyond the 3-point line, although he’s flashed some signs of a competent mid-range game."

Draft Express also has good information about Diallo’s strengths and weaknesses, mirroring what Stone what about him in his mock draft. His jumper appears to be his biggest weakness at the moment.

On paper, there are some things to like and some things to be concerned about, the same as with every young player. The Hawks already have a selection of wings that aren’t elite shooters. Adding another to the mix wouldn’t help their three-point shooting issues.

Still, Diallo is an athletic freak and NBA teams will always be enamored by athleticism. It’s easy to imagine him as a relentless attacker off the dribble that frequently makes trips to the free-throw line. Could his athletic ability also help turn him into a lockdown defender as his develops? If he reaches his ceiling he could be an All-Star caliber player.

The team taking Diallo is taking a massive risk, but his upside is enticing. Especially if Diallo happens to fall to the second round. Potential is the name of the game.

Next: Could Justin Jackson fill THJ's role?

The Hawks have three picks in the draft, taking a flyer on Diallo at pick No. 31 is a risk worth taking.