The Detroit Pistons season hasn’t quite gone to plan, to put it mildly. A never-ending injury report has plagued the roster for much of the season, with coach Dwane Casey only having a fully outfitted roster on a handful of occasions.
With injuries come inconsistency, and inconsistency quickly becomes instability, and that is a recipe for losses, lots of them.
On the flip side, a poor bill of health often forces coaches to think outside the box, to get creative with lineups in ways that stretch beyond their comfort zones. Injuries also give players once outside the rotation and at the end of the bench an opportunity to grasp a role normally not available to them.
There has been many nights through 47 games where Casey has had to remix his lineup to accomodate for injury. However, on Jan. 10 in a meeting with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Detroit coaching staff were hurled into lineup chaos when he suddenly found himself without the services of Isaiah Stewart. The team was already without two of their regular rotation bigs in Jalen Duren and Marvin Bagley, and the loss of Stewart left Nerlens Noel as the sole member on the roster roster taller than 6-foot-7.
With only one true big available, the Pistons braintrust turned to the roster’s King of Chaos to fill the void of back-up center minutes—Hamidou Diallo. Some might think that fielding a five-man unit with a center and point guard both standing 6-foot-5 (that’s Diallo and Killian Hayes) could lead to some trouble on the court. But chaos is where Diallo seems to draw his super powers. Put him on the floor, let him run, and see him thrive.
Now in his fifth year, the rangy wing has come to terms with his NBA role and is figuring out ways to succeed. As Diallo told The Athletic;
“I just try to find different things to do within our offense, whether it’s move, set screens, get the rebound and push...I just want to find different ways to implement myself into the game. And like you said, not a lot of things are getting ran through me, and that’s fine.”
That night in Philadelphia wound up as a forgettable one. The Pistons being blown out to the tune of 31 points, but a silver-lining of this East Coast shellacking was Diallo looking comfortable in his newfound front-court role, particularly on offense.
Sticking the athletically gifted Diallo at the center position amplifies all of his strengths, while nullifying his major flaw—shooting.
In the four games since assuming the back-up center role, Diallo is averaging 14 points, 6 rebounds and 1 steal on 71% shooting from the floor.
Detroit has used Diallo as a screener in the pick-and-roll on various possessions during this span, allowing him to take advantage of his supreme vertical pop and excellent touch at the rim:
The 24-year-old is finishing a career-high 72% of his shots at the rim this season, per Cleaning the Glass. The elite finishing paired with Diallo’s unique physical attributes make for a tough cover in the pick-and-roll.
The mere threat of Diallo rolling toward the painted area has also opened up additional scoring avenues for Detroit:
In the above play, New Orleans Pelicans guard, Dyson Daniels recognises Diallo setting a brush screen for Jaden Ivey and rotates early to account for Diallo’s roll towards the basket. Ivey identifies Daniels movement along the baseline and skips a pass to Bogdanovic in the corner. From here, Bogdanovic is able to blow by Daniel’s closeout and find a cutting Diallo for the easy dunk.
Pouncing on defensive miscommunications or lapses with an explosive cut to the rim has been a staple of Diallo’s scoring diet. In 47 games played, scoring via cuts has accounted for 21% of his total points, scoring 66 of his 307, per NBA.com.
Providing Diallo an empty painted area has enabled him to roam the paint in search of scoring opportunities. Fans are aware of Diallo’s willingness to cut or crash the offensive glass for rebounds, but he’s has also utilized the additional space to hoist mid-range jumpers:
Here, Diallo clears out from the right elbow to maintain offensive spacing. Knicks center, Mitchell Robinson, tags Diallo as he cuts via the base-line with the assumption the Pistons wing is heading to the corner. However, the savvy-Diallo darts to the free throw-line and finds himself open for the 13ft jumper—a shot he’s been converting at a 48% clip, since December 31st.
Following a season-high 19 points against New Orleans last Friday night, Diallo was asked how the game has opened-up for him playing at the five, to which he responded:
“I feel like I have the opportunity to rebound more and push..when I’m down there ready and the ball falls to my hand and I’m able to showcase my transition skillset...that’s been really good for me”
It’s become a nightly occurrence for Diallo to collect the defensive rebound and blast from end-to-end in the blink of an eye, while the opposing big-men lumbers up the court in Diallo’s wake:
Diallo was already one of the leagues best wing rebounders in the NBA, with his 3.9 rebounds per game equating to a defensive rebounding percentage of 14.9%—a metric which calculates how many of the available rebounds a player collected—ranking him in the 88th percentile per Cleaning the Glass.
Naturally, moving him closer to the basket has only increased the amount of rebounding opportunities, with Diallo hauling in 6 boards per contest across his past four games. This has further increased the frequency in which he’s able to engage in his transition attacks.
With Stewart back and Jalen Duren’s return coming as soon as today’s game in Paris, the Hami at the 5 experiment is soon to end. However, even with the return of Detroit’s starting bigs, theres potential for Diallo to continue his front-court traits a the power forward position. Especially alongside Stewart.
Per NBA.com, in 141 minutes played together, line-ups featuring the duo of Stewart and Diallo has thrived with a +8.2 net-rating. With Stewart spending more time on the perimeter this season, Diallo has been able to attack a less congested painted area.
With Diallo set to enter Unrestricted Free Agency this summer, his future with the team is still largely unknown. In the three-point shooting era, players like Diallo are often chastised for the absence of a perimeter shot and given little credit for the many things they do well.
But, in this most recent stretch Diallo appears to have found a niche, a role he can thrive in. And for a player that has struggled to garner consistent playing time, that’s a great step in the direction of a new contract.