LAS VEGAS — Don’t tell Hamidou Diallo he’s just athletic.
He’ll be the first one to tell you that it doesn’t bother him, of course. Diallo’s humble approach is as much apart of him as is his cheerful smile.
“I wouldn’t say it pisses me off [to be labeled as just an athlete] because I am,” Diallo told The Franchise. “I am really athletic. But a lot of people jump and say, ‘he’s only an athlete,’ or ‘he’s only this.’ That’s why I’m here at Summer League to showcase what I’ve been working on.”
To gloss over the 21-year old from Queens as a player who merely relies on his athleticism is doing him a disservice. As Diallo enters his second year in the NBA, the sophomore regiment of fine tuning his game and developing has been tasked to him in Summer League.
And if you don’t pay attention, you’ll notice him rather quickly. At this point — for better or for worse.
“He’s so talented, he’s going to show up in the game,” Thunder Summer League coach Dave Bliss said. “There’s not going to be a game where he’s out there and you don’t know it.”
Bliss is right. It is easier to argue that the sky isn’t blue rather than to ignore Diallo’s 6’6” frame hustling down the floor in any given game. That hasn’t been the problem since he surprised Thunder fans with a promising rookie campaign.
Last year, Diallo appeared in 40 of the Thunder’s first 46 games thanks to Diallo’s athleticism. Unfortunately for the University of Kentucky product, he only appeared in 11 of the remaining 36 games. He didn’t register a minute in the postseason. In a league filled with athletes, Diallo’s athleticism took him as far as a rookie second-round draft pick would take him on a playoff contender.
This is where development comes in. Sure, athleticism helps. But what truly aids a young player is the ability to build on that athleticism. To fine tune his game in order to perform the small, fundamental tasks of being a good basketball player.
For Diallo, it’s simple — repetition
“Just go out and do the same things I’ve been working on,” Diallo said. “Each day is a clean slate and I try to move on and build on top of yesterday.”
This is a player’s whose pregame routine (last year) of dribbling the ball in each hand at different paces would make Steph Curry blush. As Diallo, meticulously carries out his basketball ritual, the message becomes clear. Diallo doesn’t want to be just an athletic basketball player. He wants to be a great basketball player.
“He’s got the physical tools to make plays,” Bliss said. “For him, it’s just a matter of repetition.”
The more visible aspects — shot making and perimeter defense — are very much apart of Diallo’s marriage of his athleticism with his developing fundamentals.
“The shots are going to fall,” Diallo said. “I put in the work each and every day and the shots will fall. I just want to be better all around. I need to keep working. There is so much out there to learn.”
It is important to remember that these things take time. Diallo is not going to become a 3-point shooting assassin during Summer League. He’s not going to be a guy who can guard multiple positions without fouling consistently in July. In two Summer League games, Diallo has shown some improvement along with the work in progress typical of player at this stage. But the grind and passion for the game is all there.
“People label me as an athlete because I do athletic things,” Diallo said. “That’s what catches people’s eyes. If they want to label me as only an athlete, I’ll take it.”
The word doesn’t bother him. But the word goes against his development. Describe him at your own risk.
Special thanks to Allen Samuels Volkswagen in Oklahoma City for sponsoring The Franchise’s trip to Summer League in Las Vegas.
Brady Trantham has covered the Oklahoma City Thunder for The Franchise since April 2018 and for Thunder Digest since 2016. He hosts a Thunder podcast with Madysson Morris “OKC-82 Podcast” which can be found on all podcast outlets, and is a featured co-host on the Franchise Thunder Insider’s Show on Saturdays from 10-12, in addition to weekly guest spots on “The Franchise Drive” on Tuesdays and “The Franchise Morning Show” on Wednesdays. Follow him on Twitter @BradyDoesSports