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The Shop: Super Teams, Systems, Contracts

In the second edition of The Shop, Jabari Davis and Lang Greene discuss super teams, systems and extensions.

Jabari Davis

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Welcome back for the second installment of The Shop! We appreciate all the feedback we received after the first edition, and we want to remind you that you can weigh in on our conversation on Twitter by using #TheShop and tagging each of us (@JabariDavisNBA and @LangGreene). You can also leave your thoughts directly in the comment section below.Domantas

Jabari Davis: Alright, Lang, this time around we’re going to discuss the notion of “super teams” a bit more and how the Warriors may handle the pressure and scrutiny this year. We’ll also talk about an apology from the Philadelphia 76ers and see where else the conversation leads us this week.

Let’s start in Oakland, even though I promised myself that I’d Euro-step most of the inevitable and oftentimes media-driven narratives that would surround this team for as long as possible. To a certain degree, it appears certain members of this team may not have anticipated quite as much scrutiny as they’ve already gotten.

That seems a bit crazy, especially because everyone saw what happened just six years ago when the Miami HEAT came together to form their super team. Yes, the circumstances were a bit different, but there are some similarities when it comes to the path and ultimate struggles LeBron James endured while attempting to wear the ‘black hat’ for an extended period of time in that first season. It might have been a good idea for Kevin Durant or someone in his crew to reach out directly to James to discuss how the transition went.

And even though Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were already mainstays and top contributors on a historically good team, they should’ve realized that adding Durant would mean that a Chris-Bosh-like role change would be necessary for the good of the team.

Not to make a mountain out of a relative molehill, but do you get the feeling that perhaps the most difficult adjustment this team will have to make – beyond figuring out how to effectively and consistently defend the interior – will be in fully accepting and embracing the redefined roles as well as the scrutiny and vitriol of fans at times?

Lang Greene: You are onto something, my man. Make no mistake, the Warriors are going to walk that aisle most nights and leave the arena with their arms raised to the sky in victory (I’m projecting 65 victories). They are too talented not to win at a high level, but here is the deal: Sacrifices must be made for teams of this magnitude to work. Period. Without sacrifices, there will not be a title. We touched on this last week when we said that the role players are going to be key. But to your point, the guys at the top of the hierarchy must adjust.

Remember, Klay said he was “not sacrificing shit” before the season started. But Klay is a pro and I think a bit of that was just some macho, broad shoulder talk. You don’t add a superstar like Kevin Durant without adjusting your game to compensate for the future Hall of Famer. I think Klay gets that, but saying it publicly might be perceived as a weakness. That’s the reason I always loved the way Chris Bosh handled being the third man on the totem pole in Miami behind LeBron and Dwyane Wade. CB received all types of slander, but just kept playing ball and that’s the reason he is a future Hall of Famer.

One last note on Durant: It is going to be important that he stops talking about anything related to Oklahoma City. Put the lid on it. Refuse to address it. He has said enough. He made his decision and it is time to move on.

Which leads me to … the Oklahoma City Thunder, who solidified Russell Westbrook’s supporting cast by extending Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo to the tune of over $175 million combined. WhewLawd … the money is flowing. What’s your take on the moves?

Davis: You’re exactly right about the Durant situation. He was actually the guy I was referring to when I mentioned trying to potentially do something you simply aren’t accustomed to. I would never be so presumptuous as to tell a player how to feel, act or even react, but I will say I do worry about Durant coming from what can only be considered an understandably friendly media market in OKC to what will absolutely be a circus (and he should’ve seen that coming). Not just because he joined a West Coast market, but also because of the specific team he joined and all of the circumstances that transpired during last year’s playoffs. Displays like that awkward, “I’mma yell at myself and get all pumped up… oh, what’s that? A camera?” post-workout shooting session are only going to add fuel to that fire.

I liked and understood the extensions by OKC, because it is obvious GM Sam Presti wants to keep that foundation around Westbrook as strong as possible, and can you blame him? I’ve already learned to pretty much ignore the numbers associated with recent contracts, because we’re at a stage where guys are simply going to get paid. While they shocked me over the past couple years, I’m always reminded of the fact that for contracts of that magnitude to be offered, somebody above them is making exponentially more than that. In that regard, I’m definitely happy to see players cashing in.

I actually wrote about the signings immediately after The Vertical reported the agreements. Both Adams and Oladipo make a lot of sense alongside Westbrook and for the future of the ballclub. Adams is only 24 years old, but looks as though he’s ready to take yet another step forward on both ends of the court after an impressive run to finish the regular season and playoffs last year. He has fully embraced his role as a pest who gets under the opposition’s skin, and he’s not afraid to challenge anyone at or around the rim. You can’t have too many guys like that on your roster.

Extending Oladipo also makes a lot of sense to me because even though his offensive game remains a bit of a work-in-progress from an efficiency standpoint, he is effective enough and can really disrupt things around the perimeter on the defensive end. Similar to Eric Bledsoe in Phoenix, Oladipo plays “bigger” than his actual stature and seems like a guy who can continue to thrive playing alongside Westbrook. I can’t state enough how important that aspect is.

I really like Domantas Sabonis and think his progress could determine just how expendable Enes Kanter is at the deadline. Fans are going to be annoyed that I’m always the one to bring up potential roster moves, but that’s just the nature of the business at times, so I don’t see the harm in speculating when things could make sense. And for the record, the fact that I’m mentioning Kanter isn’t because he isn’t a quality player. I think he’s a good player who can absolutely contribute on a winning team. But Kanter also has two years and over $36 million left on his deal after this season and if there’s any chance that Sabonis shows true signs of rapid development between now and next February, I would expect a quality front office such as OKC’s leadership group to at least consider all viable options for their roster.

Greene: I took a brief scroll through some mentions after The Vertical reported the extensions for Adams and Oladipo. One fan said something to the tune of, “Good job Presti, locking up that sixth seed for the next five years.” Yikes. While I don’t agree, it’s true that the Thunder did lock up almost $200 million to a couple of guys who haven’t come close to sniffing an All-Star game.

I have been on record plenty of times stating how much I love Adams’ approach to the game. The guy is like a unicorn in today’s league. Feisty, unapologetic, tough, no frills and hard-nosed. Championship teams have dedicated role playing guys like Adams on their roster. But here’s the deal: Those old championship teams weren’t paying $100 million for their services either. Westbrook is a certified goodie monster, but he’ll need another All-Star (or borderline All-Star) next to him in the rotation if OKC is going to snatch a title, or, at the very least emerge out of the West.

Davis: Switching gears a bit, what did you think about the Sixers and the apology they recently felt compelled to release regarding the situation with the would-be national anthem singer from opening night? For those who may not be familiar with the story, Sevyn Streeter is a singer who was reportedly scheduled to sing the national anthem before the Sixers faced Westbrook’s Thunder in their home opener. Just prior to going out to perform, Streeter was told she could no longer sing the anthem due to her jersey that had the words “We Matter” across the front. For more details beyond that, allow ‘Google’ to be your friend.

Here’s the Sixers’ apology:

We are sorry that this happened. After receiving feedback from our players, basketball operations staff and ownership group, we believe that the wrong decision was made, and Sevyn should have been welcomed to sing. We apologize to her, and in an effort to move the conversation forward, we have reached out to offer her an opportunity to return and perform at a game of her choice. We are waiting to hear back.”

The organization reportedly received some pretty strong feedback from the players that suggested displeasure with the decision and seemed to at least indicate a situation where whoever was responsible for that decision was guilty of being a bit tone-deaf to the room and eventual repercussions. Not to bury said individuals, but part of me wonders if this impacts how “forward-thinking and progressive” the NBA is seen on such matters and if they should be worried about the slippery slope that can come from determining which ways are permissible to protest?

Greene: Interesting situation. I always remind people that this country was built on dissent. The act of protesting or staging protests is at the very foundation of the United States of America. But being a little older now, I also understand that power structures aren’t going to allow protesters to run rampant and do whatever they want – especially not on private property. The First Amendment protects your freedom of speech from GOVERNMENT interference, not private organizations. I think this is important to note. The Sixers were within their rights as an entity to pull Sevyn from the event.

With that said, I thought it was a bad call because the backlash was predictable. Now when/if Sevyn returns to perform, the media attention surrounding the event will be a circus. I believe the league has been progressive (and proactive) in their approach to these challenging social issues.

Lastly, I just find it crazy how a “We Matter” tank top caused this much of a stir.     

Davis: I’ve gone on the record with high praise for the definitiveness with which Commissioner Adam Silver handled the Donald Sterling situation, even though I did at least understand those that wanted to entertain the conversation in defense against the way he actually lost his team. I even thought it was a smart move on the league’s part for preemptively getting together with the players’ union to discuss the matter in advance.

With all of that said, when it comes to limiting the ways people can speak, especially when being done in a peaceful and non-offensive manner as some have attempted, I think the league can find itself in an even more difficult situation when you are eventually asking both players and a significant portion of your total fan base to effectively choose a side when it comes to “the right way to act/feel” versus “who the HELL are you to tell me how to feel about social injustice” conversation if you aren’t careful in this situation if you’re the NBA.

Greene: Think about it … this is a subject people just don’t want to touch. We haven’t even mentioned the elephant (word) in the room yet with all of our back and forth dialogue. So I will: RACE. RACE. RACE.

People just don’t want to touch the issue and I get why they don’t. It’s polarizing, people lose their careers after a failed attempt to discuss the issue on social media and it’s a conversation most want to avoid like the plague.

But here’s my stance … once you allow folks to start telling people how, when and where they should be protesting, the protest loses any steam it truly has. Protests are supposed to make you uncomfortable. When you allow people to say, “Maybe you should change the color of the shirt,” or, “Maybe you should phrase it like this,” or, “Maybe you should wait until next week” then it ruins any possibility of being effective.

Respect to the Sixers for issuing an apology. They didn’t have to … they were well within their right to hold Sevyn off the floor, but the apology signifies that they’re willing to hear another side and, at the end of the day, that constitutes a win.

Now, let me ask you a question: Would you rather have a super team or a super system? My gut answer is to take the super system over the super team. Think of red ants. I know I sound crazy, but follow me… Those little red ants have a SYSTEM running, my man. Everyone giving it up for the team. Role players supporting their star player. Everyone buying into the pecking order. No egos.

But man, when you do get a super team that follows the red-ant blueprint (i.e. last year’s Warriors or the 2012 Miami HEAT), the ride will be special. The problem is… most of these super teams can’t operate like a colony of red ants. There are too many alpha males.

Davis: Can I cheat and say a relative combination of both? I think that’s what the Cavs, Warriors and Spurs each currently have. The Warriors are in the middle of adjusting, so the system won’t instantly look as good as they likely will when we are 40 or so games in. The Cavs have both a great mix of talent and the league’s ultimate cheat code in the motivated “Terminator LeBron” we witnessed over the final three games of the NBA Finals.

The Spurs, while there are some that still find a way to question them as a legitimate contender, continue to simply “do what they do.” But as they’ve done numerous times in the past, they have also shifted the entire attack on both ends around one of the league’s best all-around players in Kawhi Leonard. Prior to the year, even with the significant improvements Leonard showed over the course of a career 50.6 percent/44.3 percent/87.4 percent shooting season, there were still times during the playoff run that left an honest question about him definitively in the role of lead offensive player.

Obviously, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol are capable of scoring in bunches at times, but it was fair to want to see more of Leonard in that situation. Just as it was fair to wonder about that Spurs’ second unit until we saw how guys like Kyle Anderson, Jonathon Simmons and Dewayne Dedmon start making the same plays on both ends of the court we’ve come to simply expect from the Manu Ginobili’s and Tony Parker’s of the world.

At this stage, will all due respect to the teams like the Raptors or the Clippers and perhaps to some degree the Pacers and Celtics among a couple others, the Cavs, Warriors and Spurs have done the best jobs of effectively combining incredible talent with superior systems and finding a way to make the personalities blend and mesh together.

Greene: I don’t have a problem with you hedging here and I agree with you. Let me throw this at you, I think an argument can be made that there are more “super” systems in place than we give credit for in the league. While the Dallas Mavericks haven’t had the “deep playoff” type of success in recent years, don’t confuse that with underachieving. In many ways, what Rick Carlisle has been able to do and the quality of play he’s been able to get out of guys over the past few seasons is very impressive. Heck, last year he had Ray Felton ballin’. Also, my man Zaza Pachulia had a career-year. I think the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics are two other franchises, on a smaller scale, that are building out their respective cultures … and you’re starting to see more and more of their role-playing guys make big contributions on a nightly basis in the rotation.

I believe teams like the Raptors and Clippers are great teams that are driven by their overall collection of talent, not necessarily the engine of the system that’s running the show. There is a difference.

I will end it with this point … the key to having a super team or super system is having STAR power though. Cleveland’s culture is driven by the greatness of LeBron James. The Warriors’ super team moniker is driven by the presence of Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. The Mavericks’ system is driven by the respect Dirk Nowitzki commands in the locker room. In San Antonio, David Robinson and Tim Duncan laid the groundwork for the culture and the role playing guys quickly fell in line.

I guess there is no right answer and like most things, the truth falls somewhere in the middle. So as much as I hate to hedge, I must here, after further thought.

Alright Hoop Freaks, thanks for joining us for another installment of The Shop. We’ll be doing this each week and in the future, we will also be incorporating special friends of ours to touch on various topics. Until the next time… dare to be great… finish a layup in traffic with your offhand… or sacrifice your points and give your teammate an assist on the break. Ha. Be safe, good people.  

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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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.

Moke Hamilton

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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.

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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.

Shane Rhodes

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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.”

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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.

Ben Nadeau

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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.

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