Having played 21 games, the New York Knicks have now passed the quarter pole of the 2016-17 campaign.
A 12-9 record may not be much to celebrate in some cities, but for New Yorkers thirsty for just a taste of success, it’s viewed as an important step in the right direction.
The Knicks are over .500 through first 20 games of a season for just the third time this century. And New York is currently three games over .500 for the first time since April 17, 2013.
Thus, with 20-plus games in the rear-view mirror, let’s look back and hand out grades to each player.
Carmelo Anthony: B+
Based solely on the numbers, ‘Melo is not having a great season by “Carmelo Anthony standards.” He’s had to adjust his game playing alongside a true, talented point guard in Derrick Rose and an emerging superstar in Kristaps Porzingis. For instance, last season Anthony posted the highest assist percentage rate of his career (20.9). This season, his assist percentage is under 10 percent for the first time since 2007. Correspondingly, his usage rate is below 29 for the first time since his rookie year in Denver.
Nonetheless, ‘Melo has played a crucial role in propelling the Knicks to a fast start, especially over their last 12 games, when the Knicks have posted a conference-best 9-3 record. Despite getting knocked by many for unimaginative isolation plays at the end of games, Anthony has silenced the critics by sinking multiple game-winning shots.
In addition, ‘Melo remains a truly elite catch-and-shoot marksman. He’s averaging 7.7 points per game off catch-and-shoot shots, which is fifth-best in the entire league. He’s shooting a terrific 50.4 percent on these attempts. To put that in context, Klay Thompson is shooting 43.7 percent. (Anthony and Steph Curry are the only two players in the league shooting above 50 percent on at least at least five attempts). ‘Melo has also been a bit more focused on the defensive end. His Net Rating of plus-1.4 is best among Knicks starters.
Nonetheless, there are still some areas in which ‘Melo can improve. For instance, despite knocking down a few clutch shots, he tends to settle for forced jumpers out of isolation too often. Per the numbers above, we know how deadly effective he can be when spotting up and knocking down jumpers. However, his efficiency drops dramatically when he puts the ball on the floor. Per NBA.com/stats, he’s shooting just 33.8 percent on possessions in which he takes between 3-to-6 dribbles before attempting his shot. That’s obviously far less impressive when compared to his catch-and-shoot accuracy. And if he is going to put the ball on the floor, he should drive far more frequently instead of settling for mid-range jumpers. ‘Melo is averaging a career-low 4.5 points in the paint. Just 16 percent of his total field goal attempts have come at the rim this season. That’s far below his career average of 33.4 percent. He is also averaging a fewer than five free throws attempts per game for the first time in his career.
Kristaps Porzingis: A-
The Knicks thought they had a something special when they drafted this skinny Latvian kid with the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft. They knew they had something special when he exceeded even the highest of expectations during his stellar rookie season. But even the Knicks have to be surprised with the improvement and development of Porzingis in his second NBA season.
After struggling defensively and not rebounding as well as he should have in his rookie season, Porzingis has improved on both fronts as a sophomore. His ability to contribute substantially on both ends of the floor is why so many in the Knicks organization are so high on him. Last week, he became the first player in New York franchise history to block at least two shots and make at least two three-pointers in four straight games. At just 21 years old, he is on pace to become just the seventh player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, seven rebounds and two three-pointers per game.
In addition, he leads the team in most advanced metrics. He is first on the team in PER (19.8) and also leads the team in VORP, offensive win shares and defensive win shares.
Last season, when he wasn’t knocking down shots, he would have a difficult time finding other ways to contribute. This season, that hasn’t been the case. For instance, he is shooting just 31.1 percent from the floor and a frigid 18.8 percent from downtown over New York’s last three games, but has also grabbed 31 rebounds, blocked eight shots and posted a positive plus/minus in those the games – all Knick wins.
Quite simply, the Knicks are at their best when they make a concerted effort to feature Porzingis. New York is 7-3 this season when his Usage Rate is north of 25 percent. They are just 3-7 in the 10 games in which KP’s usage rate dips below 25 percent. The Knicks are 8-3 when he plays more than 33 minutes. They are 0-4 when he plays less than 30 minutes.
Derrick Rose: B
It’s been a very long time since the Knicks had a point guard capable of what Rose brings to the table each night. Specifically, Rose’s ability to penetrate into the heart of opposing defenses has been invaluable.
Rose has already scored 200 points in the paint this season in the 670 minutes he played. In contrast, the Knicks’ starting point guard the last two seasons, Jose Calderon, scored a total of 128 points in the paint over 3,294 minutes from 2014 through 2016. Rose is on pace to score 780 points in the paint this season, which means he’d join Amar’e Stoudemire as just the second Knick this decade to score more than 700 points in the paint. In addition, Rose’s penetration does far more than just allow him to score; it creates space and stretches the defense, which puts his teammates in positions to succeed.
Rose is currently averaging 16.7 points, 4.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds. Only two Knicks point guards have averaged at least 16 points, four dimes and four boards over the course of a full season: Walt Frazier (eight times) and Mark Jackson (once).
However, Rose can get into trouble when he tries to do too much. He’s hurt the team at times when he tries to force shots and passes that aren’t there. We mentioned the usage rates stats related to Porzingis above. Well, it’s a far different scenario for Rose. The Knicks are just 1-8 in games in which Rose’s usage rate is greater than 26 percent. In contrast, New York is 11-1 when his usage rate is less than 26 percent. Similarly, the Knicks are 0-7 this season when Rose attempts more than 16 shots in a game. They are 12-2 when he shoots 16 times or less.
Nonetheless, Rose has provided a steady hand to lead the Knicks since the start of the season. He has also remained healthy, playing in each of the first 20 games of a season for the first time since his MVP campaign. Yet, Rose had to exit Tuesday’s win over Miami with back spasms. We shall see if it’s a lingering issue.
Brandon Jennings: B
We’ve talked a lot about stats and figures thus far, but Brandon Jennings’ greatest contributions typically don’t show up on the stat sheet each night. Jennings has provided a much-needed spark of energy and excitement off the bench. He’s also been demanding of his team. Jennings has been unafraid to publicly call out the troops after embarrassing performances.
Jennings has also proven himself as a finisher. He is actually second on the Knicks in total minutes played in the fourth quarter this season (behind only Porzingis).
At times, he’ll try to do too much, but that’s easier to accept when it’s a by-product of the ratcheted-up intensity he supplies on a nightly basis. There were many questions about Jennings coming into the season, as he was still working his way back from a devastating Achilles tear, but Jennings has looked spry and reinvigorated. He’s also revamped his game. For his career, he has averaged 13.8 FG attempts per game. This season, he’s focused on becoming a facilitator. He’s currently averaging just 6.4 shots per contest. He also boasts a team-best 2.94 assist-to-turnover ratio.
If Rose ends up missing time, he’ll become vitally important as the team’s starting PG.
Courtney Lee: C+
The Knicks had high hopes for Lee when they signed him this summer, hoping they’d finally found an elite perimeter defender and knock-down shooter from long distance. Lee hasn’t quite lived up to the hype.
He is shooting 44.2 percent from the floor, below his career mark of 45. Yet, while he hasn’t been quite as great defensively as hoped, he’s certainly been solid. His individual Defensive Rating of 106.5 is fourth best on the team. As he works his way back from an ankle sprain, there is certainly reason to believe he’ll improve as the season moves on.
Joakim Noah: D
Many pundits panned the Knicks for signing Noah to a four-year, $72 million contract back in July. Right now, those that defended the Knicks’ decision don’t have much of a leg to stand on. While most agreed that the deal would look bad three or four years from now, the hope was that he’d play well enough early on in the contract to justify the potential of dead weight down the road. Instead, Noah stumbled badly out of the gate.
Not only has he had trouble staying healthy, missing four of the Knicks’ first 21 games, he’s also been ineffective for much of the time he’s been on the court. The standard stats aren’t pretty. He’s averaging just 4.2 points, 2.9 assists and 0.8 blocks. He’s also dealing with a terrible case of the yips at the free throw line. Noah is just 6-of-25 (24 percent) from the charity stripe this season, including 11 straight misses. It’s extremely odd, considering he shot 73 percent from the line over the first seven years of his NBA career.
Most shocking, his defense has been sub-par. Per NBA.com, the Knicks are allowing 108.4 points per 100 possessions while Noah is on the floor. That’s the third-worst individual DefRtg on the team.
By all accounts, he is a terrific teammate and a leader in the locker room, and there is obviously still plenty of time for Noah to turn it around, but the pressure on Noah will only continue to grow if his play doesn’t improve.
Mindaugas Kuzminskas: B-
Kuz has unexpectedly become a fan favorite among Madison Square Garden faithful, and for good reason; the kid can play.
Kuzminskas is 27 and has a wealth of international experience, so he isn’t your typical rookie. That experience has been hard to miss, as his impressive basketball IQ and solid all-around skill set have earned him plenty of minutes along with coach Jeff Hornacek’s trust. Coming into Tuesday night’s game in Miami, Kuz was second among all rotation players in Net Rating (plus-4.3).
Justin Holiday: B-
Holiday was an afterthought in the “Derrick Rose trade,” but the young, skinny wing has been a pleasant surprise for Hornacek and the coaching staff.
He is shooting a career-high 40 percent from the floor and 37 percent from three-point territory. Holiday has also been better than expected on the other end of the floor. He is an active, pesky defender that uses his length to his advantage.
Kyle O’Quinn: B-
After a slow start and struggling just to maintain his spot in the rotation over the first month of the season, O’Quinn has been a man possessed recently. Over the Knicks’ last three games, O’Quinn is averaging 12 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks, while shooting a scorching 70.8 percent from the floor. And it should be noted that the opposing centers he’s matched up against in these contests were Karl-Anthony Towns, DeMarcus Cousins and Hassan Whiteside.
O’Quinn’s effort has been inspiring. He’s been a beast on the offensive glass and has seemingly come up with every loose ball for a week straight. His strong play has made the disappointing performance of Noah far less damaging than it could have been. On the season, his PER currently sits at 19.6, just ahead of ‘Melo for second-best on the team. We’ll see if KO can keep this up.
Willy Hernangomez: B-
Hernangomez has been another pleasant surprise for the Knicks. And, like O’Quinn, Willy has done an admirable job filling in for Noah when called upon.
Hernangomez has a terrific feel for the game, possessing great hands and good vision. Furthermore, his footwork around the basket is phenomenal for a player his age. He currently leads the team in both True Shooting percentage (62.5) and Effective Field Goal percentage (60.9). He also ranks first on the Knicks in defensive rebounds per 100 possessions.
The knock on Hernangomez is his defense. He doesn’t have the lateral agility to guard quicker opponents, and he’s not yet strong enough to move bigger centers from their preferred spots on the low block.
Lance Thomas: C-
Thomas greatly exceeded expectations last season and played the best basketball of his career. The Knicks rewarded him with a lucrative four-year, $27.5 million contract this past summer. However, the early returns have not been overly encouraging. He is shooting 41.5 percent from the floor and his individual DefRtg of 110.5 is the worst on the team.
Still, to be fair, Thomas has been hampered by injuries this season. An ankle sprain cost him three weeks in November and he is still dealing with the nagging effects of plantar fasciitis. To his credit, Thomas stepped up and played his best game of the season Tuesday night in Miami. Maybe that boosts his confidence and he begins playing closer to the 2015-16 version of himself.
Sasha Vujacic: C+
Vujacic’s standard, offensive stats are far from impressive. He’s averaging only 2.2 points while shooting just 35.7 percent from the floor. However, he has actually played far better than anticipated on the defensive end (Defensive Rating of 96.2). It is safe to assume this won’t last, and he’ll need to start knocking down shots in order to see additional minutes, but the steady professional has been a calming influence on the floor whenever his number has been called thus far.
Maurice Ndour: C-
Ndour was on the fringe of the rotation early in the season. He appeared in seven of the Knicks’ first 12 games, averaging over 10 minutes per contest. However, he wasn’t overly impressive on either side of the ball and eventually lost his playing time to more productive bench contributors, such as Q’Quinn and Kuzminskas. Ndour has played a total of only seven minutes over the Knicks’ last nine games.
Ron Baker: Incomplete
Baker played well in the preseason to earn a roster spot, but has played sparingly since the regular season commenced. Baker has played a total of 34 minutes in four brief appearances. However, he may be forced into action if Rose misses any time.
Marshall Plumlee: Incomplete
Plumlee has only appeared in two games this season. Last Wednesday in Minnesota, Plumlee came off the bench and gave the Knicks a solid 20 minutes of effort and energy. However, it’s too small of a sample size to draw any fair conclusion.
Which Knicks have surprised you the most? Who needs to step up for the team moving forward? Leave your thoughts in a comment below.
David Fizdale Building Bonds With Kristaps Porzingis and Knicks Young Guards
David Fizdale figured out that winning in the NBA requires deep connections between coach and player.
It barely took David Fizdale a week to take the New York Knicks to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Next time they’re there, though, hopefully they’ll be playing.
In case you missed it, the newly minted head coach for Team Porzingis took Frank Ntilikina, Emmanuel Mudiay and Damyean Dotson to Boston to take in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The stated purpose of the trip, according to Fizdale, was to give his young guards some exposure to the intensity of playoff basketball. Unfortunately, for the Knicks, it’s the closest they’ve been to the playoffs since Carmelo Anthony famously had his fate-sealing dunk thrown back in his face by Roy Hibbert.
Fortunately for the Knicks, though, the field trip itself is indicative of the team having a head coach in place who understands one of the secrets to being successful in the NBA. In this business, personal relationships and bonds will go almost as far toward building a winning program and culture as talent alone.
Even without saying so directly, you can bet that Fizdale’s taking the trio of young Knicks to Boston was him putting actions to words that, at the very least, mean he’s consistent.
At the very most, though, they mean he’s sincere.
Part of what earned Fizdale the Knicks job in the first place was his ability to impress Steve Mills and Scott Perry with his candor and humility, especially as it relates to his famous falling out with Marc Gasol. Fizdale owned the fact that he himself did not try to be enough of a counselor and diffusor of the conflict between the two and sold Mills and Perry on the idea that he has grown from the experience.
Today, Fizdale told them, he understands that the responsibility of the head coach goes beyond drawing up plays.
As soon as he got the opportunity, Fizdale went out of his way to connect with his trio of young guards and reached out to Kristaps Porzingis to let him know that he was excited to coach him and looking forward to visiting him in Spain and Latvia.
Whether you believe that Porzingis is more an invention of the New York hype machine or truly the second coming of Dirk Nowitzki, the simple fact is that he is the only thing that the Knicks have going for them right now. What makes his situation a tad bit uncomfortable, however, is the fact that he wasn’t a fan of Phil Jackson and remains close to Carmelo Anthony.
Publicly, Porzingis has been lukewarm toward the Knicks organization and hasn’t committed to signing a rookie extension at first opportunity. Usually, a player coming off of his rookie contract is eager to cash in at his earliest opportunity and, historically, hasn’t often re-signed with his incumbent team after turning down said extension.
At the very least, things between Porzingis—who has let it be known that winning right now is his priority—and the Knicks seem to be at an impasse. And prior to his dismissal, Jeff Hornacek suggested that the franchise was leaning toward not attempting to re-sign Porzingis to an extension this summer and instead allowing him to become a restricted free agent next summer.
The strategy makes a lot of sense for the Knicks. In theory, they could creatively manipulate the salary cap to take advantage of the cap space that they could maintain by tendering Porzingis a one-year qualifying offer next summer and using their cap space to sign an unrestricted free agent prior to re-signing Porzingis. In the alternative, signing Porzingis to an extension this summer would eliminate that possibility.
Again, not signing Porzingis to the extension this summer makes a lot of sense from a team building perspective, but it does also increase the possibility that Porzingis could end up leaving the team in July 2020. If he truly is unhappy with the franchise—and there are many that believe that he is—forgoing the extension, accepting the one-year qualifying offer next summer and then leaving as an unrestricted free agent in 2020 is exactly the course that he would have to take to secure his freedom sooner.
That, obviously, is a nightmare scenario for the Knicks.
Fizdale, though, seems to have been awoken to the possibility.
Since his introductory press conference, Fizdale has extolled the virtues of the Latvian big man. Fizdale called Porzingis “the future of the NBA” and let it be known that he is planning on making multiple trips to Europe this summer to check up on Porzingis and his rehabilitation. He called Porzingis an MVP-caliber player and, apparently, has all the belief in the world that he can help the Knicks return to prominence in the Eastern Conference.
This past week, Porzingis confirmed that he and Fizdale had spoken. Porzingis said the two had a “great conversation” and that he was “excited” to begin the next chapter.
Although it was the first time Porzingis made any public comments about Fizdale, the tweet may have actually said more about Fizdale than it did about Kristaps.
At the most basic level, a unionized workforce is generally an interaction between “employees” and “management,” which can be difficult to navigate as a member of either class.
In professional sports, a head coach is the nexus between the front office—whom most players look at as managers who are divorced from the day-to-day workings of the locker room—and the player personnel.
Put more simply, the coach is someone who is expected to wear two hats. He’s more a member of management than he is a player. He needs to have the trust and ear of his front office, assist in making important player personnel decisions and, simultaneously, convince the members of the team to trust him, listen to him and play for him.
From a relationship standpoint, walking that tightrope isn’t easy to do. Most former players who become head coaches have an inside track when it comes to endearing themselves to their locker rooms, but the difficult dynamic and serving as a confidant of both the front office and the locker room is something that many coaches have difficulty managing.
In a perfect world, we’d like to believe that the only thing that matters is the result. Once upon a time, Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson were able to take the Phoenix Suns to levels the franchise hadn’t seen, despite their being polar opposites in terms of personality and values. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal had much greater success despite their lack of personal affinity for one another.
Today, however, we’ve seen the opposite. With the superstar of today having learned that he can control his own future and wield power and influence over his franchise, it has become apparent that they’ll want to find themselves playing with players they like and for coaches they have bonds with.
Fizdale learned that the hard way.
And now, with the Knicks, his attempt to become a personable leader of men will begin anew.
It started with a simple field trip and continued by picking up the phone to make a long distance call to Latvia.
At least to this point, Fizdale has traveled the extra mile.
When he sat across the table from Perry and Mills, he told them that he understood it necessary to form personal relationships and bonds with his players and how that can go a long way toward building a winning culture.
Sure, the Knicks have a long journey ahead of them, but even with the tiniest of actions, Fizdale has already begun charting the course.
Wendell Carter Jr. — The Future at the Five
Duke’s Wendell Carter could be the future of the center position in the NBA, writes Shane Rhodes.
The future of the NBA center resides in the 2018 NBA Draft. Only it may not be who you think.
The incoming class has more than a few standouts bigs: Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Mohamed Bamba and others all have flashed dominance throughout their time at school. Ayton has the body to thrive in the NBA, Bagley is an uber-athlete who is constantly working and Bamba has the skills to be an elite defender at the next level.
However, as versatility grows in prominence and importance throughout the modern NBA, there may be no one more prepared than Wendell Carter Jr.
While he hasn’t seen the same hype that envelops the aforementioned trio, Carter, standing at 6-foot-10, has the tools to be one of the next great NBA big men. By virtue of playing with Bagley, Carter’s stat line — 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and two assists — doesn’t exactly jump off the page. However, while some excelled in one specific area, Carter did a little bit of everything during his lone season at Duke.
“I knew what I could do, I knew how I could affect the game without necessarily scoring the ball,” Carter told Basketball Insiders. “So I did those things. I did those things exceptionally and I just found a way to stand out from others without having to put the ball in the basket.”
Carter, with his combination of size and high basketball IQ, has what it takes to be a multifaceted threat on the offensive side of the ball. Not only can he post or face up on the block and back down his opponents, but Carter has soft hands, can finish near the basket with both his left and right with finesse and has a multitude of moves he can turn to should he find trouble. He is also smart enough to recognize and know where he should be on the floor and when, whether he be cutting to the basket, setting the screen for another ball handler, or otherwise.
An exceptional shooter for his size, Carter posted an effective field goal percentage of 59.1 percent while netting 41.3 percent of his shots from three and 73.8 percent from the free throw line. And while he wasn’t given many opportunities to show it, Carter can be a force in the pick-and-roll as well, both as a pick-and-pop shooter or as a big man rolling to the basket.
In a non-scoring capacity, Carter is a capable passer as well. His high IQ allows for quick reads when he has the ball and, more often than not, he makes the right pass accurately and on time. While he averaged just two assists during the season, his passing ability will be a more than helpful at the next level and, with higher skilled shooters, Carter could net a few assists every game. Carter did well boxing out his man and going for the rebound as well. He averaged 2.9 offensive rebounds per game 13.5 total rebounds per 40 minutes.
Again, because of Bagley and other talented scorers, Carter took on more of a secondary role offensively. He believes, however, that it was a boon for his NBA prospects and prepared him for the next level.
“I think it did wonders for me,” Carter said. “I think it showed that I’m able to play with good players and still maintain my own.”
Defensively, Carter provides switchability as well as versatility at the next level. Playing either the power forward or center positions, he has both the size to bang down low with the bigs as well as the quickness to keep up and defend when switched on to smaller guards.
With a wingspan stretching 7 feet 4.5 inches, Carter has the length to protect the rim but is light enough on his feet to close out on and contest shooters around the perimeter. He rotates well and will rarely give up on plays. He will continuously fight for position if players attack him in the post. His hands are always active as well, with good timing on both blocks and steals. Across 37 games with the Blue Devils, Carter posted a defensive rating of 92.8.
While he is not a prospect without faults, Carter is more prepared than most for the NBA. With some seasoning at the next level, he could be a force to go up against as a player who can attack you, both offensively and defensively, from multiple different angles.
Carter has already met with multiple teams, both in and outside the lottery, including the Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, Charlotte Hornets and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Regardless of where he lands, however, Carter knows he’ll be ready.
“You’re not just playing the game, you’re playing for a business,” Carter said. “And I’m ready for it.”
NBA Daily: With No Regrets, Hamidou Diallo Is Primed For Next Step
Hamidou Diallo spoke at the NBA Draft Combine about his decision to return to school, what he learned and the advice he’s given to his teammates.
When potential first-rounders return to collegiate basketball, it’s typically about raising their stock. Every year, somebody goes back to school and, more often than not, that player goes higher in the draft the following year. It’s a nice story, sure, but it doesn’t always end up that way. Not everybody goes back to school and dominates. Not everybody goes from a fringe first-rounder to a no-brainer lottery pick.
In some instances — even despite receiving real, tangible on-court experience — they fall even lower.
For Hamidou Diallo, that’s exactly what happened — still, he’s not sweating it at all.
“Everybody’s different — let me just start off by saying that,” Diallo said at the NBA Draft Combine last week. “Everybody’s a different player, everybody has different needs. Everybody has a different family base. Everybody’s put in different situations. I’m just happy I was put in a situation I could make either or decision — go back to school or come out.
“I feel like I made the right decision and if I had to do it again, I’m doing the same thing — I’m going back to school and playing a year at Kentucky and trying to make it work.”
Coming out of high school, Diallo was ranked as the No. 11 prospect back in the class of 2017, a five-star athlete sought after by not just Kentucky, but many of Division-I’s annual royalty — Connecticut, Syracuse, Kansas, Arizona and Indiana — as well. During his senior season at Putnam Science Academy, Diallo averaged 19 points, six rebounds and three assists per game and his ability to play above the rim rightfully anointed him as a can’t-miss teenager.
Shortly after enrolling early at Kentucky in January, Diallo redshirted that spring semester in order to practice and lift with the Wildcats without sacrificing potential NBA stock or losing a year of eligibility. The plan was to learn the playbook, adjust to life at the collegiate level and prepare for the 2017-18 season. Of course, that decision did leave an interesting wrinkle in the mix. If he wanted to, Diallo could’ve gone pro without ever playing a game for Kentucky — and he almost did.
Diallo could only watch as De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo took Kentucky all the way to the Elite Eight — but that didn’t stop the high-flyer from joining the three future lottery picks at the NBA Draft Combine last spring. Among other impressive physical measurements, Diallo took down a combine-best 44.5-inch vertical leap and left many franchises wondering if the then-18-year-old could be an intriguing first-round option..
Just minutes before the pre-set midnight deadline for collegiate returners, Diallo took his name out of the draft pool. While Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that Diallo didn’t receive a guarantee high enough to keep him in the draft — it still ultimately made sense to stick his original plan.
So, he went back to Kentucky.
Diallo would start all 37 games for the Wildcats this season, averaging 10 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 24.8 minutes per game. Admittedly, it was not the breakout year most had anticipated from Diallo, but he played an important role for a Kentucky squad that won 26 contests before reaching the Sweet 16 as a No. 5 seed. But according to Diallo — now one year stronger, wiser and better prepared — his on-court action wasn’t the only big step he’s taken in this extensive process.
“I learned how to face adversity — I was put in points throughout the whole year where I had to face adversity, where I had to see what type of person I am,” Diallo said. “So I learned how to fight myself, and the biggest thing Coach Cal told me was how to fight myself. How to conquer yourself — that was the quote we heard a lot, each and every day.
“Conquer yourself — that’s one thing I learned how to do pretty well. When things aren’t going my way, I learned how to play through it and I learned how to play for the team — it was a great year for me.”
Still, presumably, Diallo will be drafted at a lower position than he would have a year ago — for better or for worse. In the grand scheme of things, Diallo looks like he has no regrets about trading a little money for a full season of collegiate basketball, gaining experiences and routines that will ideally shape a long, successful professional career. Currently, Diallo is projected all over the map — from No. 42 in Basketball Insiders’ 60-pick mock draft to No. 55 in NBADraft.net’s most recent edition.
Even with his draft fate soundly undecided at this time, Diallo still offered support for fellow prospective draftee Anfernee Simons, a 6-foot-3 guard that spent the year training at IMG Academy instead of in Division-I.
“100%, I support him, I’m all for him,” Diallo said. “Coming out, some guys are just not into college as much. Some guys want to go on to be a pro, it’s been his dream ever since he was young. He sees himself as one of the best players in the draft and for him to make the jump.
“I’m happy for him, maybe it becomes a trend, maybe it doesn’t — but for a guy to be chasing a dream, I can’t be nothing but happy for him.”
Diallo himself signed with an agent in April, which means he can’t return to Kentucky for another season — there’s no turning back now. Once again, Diallo measured well at the NBA Draft Combine, but he still declined to participate in the 5-on-5 portion, opting to leave some mystery in the tank ahead of his private workouts. Although Diallo could’ve certainly used the boost from a stellar scrimmage performance in Chicago, he’s always stuck to his plan — no reason to change his mind now.
Wherever Diallo ends up being selected in June, he’ll know that it’s just the next step in a particularly unusual road to the NBA. And whoever drafts Diallo will gain a hyper-athletic 19-year-old with all the physical tools to become a tenacious defender and a talented scorer. Detractors may point to his below average rate from three-point range last season (33.8 percent), but he also notched plenty of impressive individual outings along the way — like his 22-point, eight-rebound, one-steal and two-block effort in the NCAA Tournament’s second round.
For those that continue to sleep on Diallo, he’ll be as ready as ever to prove them wrong for the indefinite future — now, he just needs his chance. But when Diallo was asked about any advice he had imparted on P.J. Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt, two of Kentucky’s water-testing youngsters, he offered up something that’s clearly driven him since he went back to school.
“For P.J. and Jarred, I went through the process last year, I mean, just make the right decision for you and your family,” Diallo said. “Nobody can tell you what’s right, you’re going to be the one that’s gonna have to live it. So, if you feel like it’s right for you to leave, then so be it. If you feel like it’s right for you to go back to school, then go back to school.
“But don’t let anyone dictate that decision for you, just have you and your family sit down and make the right decision.”
At long last, that career-changing decision is about to finally pay off for Hamidou Diallo.