CHICAGO — Kansas forward Cheick Diallo had a rough year in Lawrence, receiving only 202 minutes of playing time on the season and averaging just three points and 2.5 rebounds.
But in the end, it wasn’t enough to fully tank his draft stock, as he put on display in the NBA Draft Combine this week.
Diallo has decided to stay in the NBA Draft, he told CBS Sports on Friday.
Diallo makes this decision after a terrific week in Chicago, where it’s possible that no player helped his draft stock as much as he did. Executives and general mangers around the event were impressed with his superb measurements (a 7-foot-4.5 wingspan will do that for you), as well as his play in the 5-on-5 portion of the event. On Thursday, Diallo scored 18 points, grabbed four rebounds, and blocked four shots. Then on Friday, he followed it up with a solid nine-point, 10-rebound performance. It’s possible Diallo could now go as early as the middle of the first round, but is more likely to be a late first round pick.
Basically, an event like the combine is tailor made for Diallo to succeed. Since bursting onto the scene as a prospect in high school, Diallo has long been known for his tremendous athleticism in running the floor and his insatiable motor. In a game like this one — as well as in an NBA that is increasingly played in the open floor and in space — those skills shine through and allow him to really perform well.
He’s also known as an active defender who can block shots and really guard in space due to that mobility at his size. Those players are rare in the NBA, and they’ve become even more valuable in recent years due to the relative downsizing of the game. It’s worth noting that Diallo is absolutely still a bit of a project on the next level given that he’s only been playing basketball for about six years, but the combine allowed him to show teams that this season wasn’t necessarily his real self and that he’s a project worth undertaking.
The event also gave Diallo a chance to show off his personality a bit, and it’s worth noting how well he succeeded in this small portion of the event, too. The Malian big man showed absolutely no ill-will toward Kansas, instead focusing on his time with his teammates.
“The NCAA stuff, it’s not my fault, it’s not the coach’s fault,” Diallo said on Thursday at his media session. “The NCAA suspended me for three or four months, so I came in late and there’s nothing I could do. After they suspended me for five games, I was behind everybody. There was just nothing I could do, I couldn’t help the team. Sometimes I played three or four minutes in a game, but I’m a team player and I don’t get mad about it. I was happy for my team.”
The tape backs those statements up. He was always among the first players up off the bench to congratulate his teammates, regularly smiling during the Jayhawks run toward the Elite Eight and the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Skill matters most, but this team-first mentality will bode well for Diallo on the next level as he works through the warts of his game.
Also, Diallo is possibly the first major “winner” of the revised early entry process that now allows student-athletes to test their stock with the option of returning to school before signing an agent. He availed himself of the pre-draft process, came away with good information, and decided to stay in the draft after getting the information he wanted to hear.
Overall, this would seem to be a sensible decision for all parties involved.