Cheick Diallo probably didn't have the kind of freshman season he anticipated, missing Kansas' first five games while embroiled in an eligibility battle with the NCAA, and then playing a marginal role for the Jayhawks down the stretch, not even participating in half a dozen contests.
Diallo played just 7 minutes, 30 seconds on average in the games he did get in off the bench, even if he was very productive in the sporadic time he saw, at 15 points (55% 2P%), 13 rebounds, 4.5 blocks and 1.4 steals per-40 minutes. Diallo lack of playing time came due to a combination of his struggles picking up the playbook, and the presence of three 22-23 year old upperclassmen who had gained the trust of Bill Self with their experience and consistency. With that said, Kansas fans can only wonder if their Final Four dreams may have been reached had the underclassmen on the roster been further developed during the season, as he did not have the luxury of playing through errors and learning from his mistakes like most freshmen at the college level.
With a 7'4 wingspan and 9'1 standing reach, Diallo has ample length to play the small-ball center role he seems destined for in the NBA, even if he does not possess ideal height at 6'9. While not freakishly explosive, Diallo is extremely nimble and agile for a player his size, being capable of moving his feet extremely well both getting up and down the floor and covering ground in the half-court on either end. At just 220 pounds, he still needs to get significantly stronger, particularly in his base, but seems to have the frame to do so in the long term.
Offensively, Diallo is a raw prospect at this point in time, being mostly relegated to put-backs, pick and roll finishes, rim-runs, and other simple plays. He does a good job of sprinting into screens and then diving to the paint with impressive speed and purpose, and is a capable target as a finisher around the basket. He also tosses in the occasional mid-range jumper, a little more often than you might expect perhaps, but does not possess great mechanics and often looks somewhat rushed with how willing he is to show off his part of his game.
Diallo showed he can make an impact on the glass at the college level, averaging over 13 rebounds per-40 minutes, as he possesses great tools with his quickness and length, to go along with a huge desire to throw his body around and make things happen with his aggressiveness and physicality.
That same reckless abandon that makes him so effective as a rebounder (and at times, a defender) also plays against him offensively in the half-court. Diallo's skill-level and feel for the game is still very much a work in progress, as he mostly plays off his instincts. He does not possess any real footwork or counter moves, and often looks rushed whenever he catches the ball, appearing to be somewhat of a black hole. He generated just one assist in 195 minutes, as opposed to 17 turnovers, many of which were of the unforced variety, with three second violations, moving screens, and charges galore. This unpredictable nature likely played a major role in Kansas' coaching staff eventually going away from him as the season moved on.
Defensively, Diallo shows significant potential, with his outstanding combination of mobility, length and high activity level. He demonstrated good instincts as a shot-blocker, swatting away 4.5 shots per-40 minutes, doing so with both hands, and even without needing to jump at times due to his excellent reach. Even more impressive is the way he covers ground on the pick and roll, stepping out on the perimeter to hedge with great quickness, and being capable of switching onto guards and staying in front using his length and agility.
With that said, Diallo is still a long ways away from putting it all together on the defensive end, as he lacks experience in a serious way and does not possess great fundamentals or awareness at this stage. Diallo plays off his instincts quite a bit here as well, being susceptible to biting on fakes, rotating wildly for blocks, and fouling at a very high rate (7.8 times per-40 minutes). It will take him some time to learn the concepts of NBA half-court defenses, and adding strength will also be a major priority in the long term, as he has a tendency to get pushed around with his lack of bulk.
Diallo was caught in a tough situation this year, as there are very few college basketball programs like Kansas who had the resources to fight the NCAA and not give in to their spiteful vengeance. At the same time, it's easy to understand how he could get lost in such a crowded and experienced frontcourt like the Jayhawks had. To Diallo's credit, he never allowed himself to become a distraction and always appeared to be a positive presence on the bench cheering for his teammates. That's a good sign considering he's unlikely to play a huge role early on in his NBA career either, as he still needs quite a bit of development to reach his full potential.
Diallo will now need to fight his way back into the first round through the pre-draft process to make up for the time and ground he lost at Kansas, but appears more than capable of doing so with what he brings to the table still as a prospect.
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