Outside of Ben Simmons or Malik Newman, there wasn't a player in the class of 2015 that had as much success in big games as Cheick Diallo. While he didn't have the FIBA success of Malik Newman or the national praise of Ben Simmons, Diallo made sure to stand out when he truly had the chance to shine. The ability to capture onto those opportunities was extremely vital for Diallo has he didn't get an opportunity to really produce in important regular season games. That was due to playing with a struggling Our Savior New American squad, which finished 14-10 during Diallo's senior season. Despite those regular season struggles, Diallo was still named as the New York Gatorade Player of the Year in both 2014 and 2015.
Diallo made scouts all over the country forget about those regular season issues once he started to play in the post-season high school all-star games. Participating in the McDonald's All-American, Jordan Brand Classic and Nike Hoop Summit), Diallo was fantastic in each event. The MVP in both the McDonald's All-American game (18 points and 10 boards) and Jordan Brand Classic (26 points and 11 boards), Diallo used those events to show off a tremendous amount of versatility on both ends of the court.
Standing at 6'9 with an impressive 7'4 wingspan, Diallo impressed the masses by showing an impressive combination of athleticism and an endless motor. That was especially evident in transition, Diallo continuously beat the opposition down the floor, an extremely rare feat for most bigs. Diallo's incredible motor is evident in the clip below, as he makes the opposition play for their lackadaisical transition defense with a smooth drive towards the rim.
That motor also helped Diallo in half-court play, as he displayed incredible potential as a rim-running big. Using his 240 pound frame to set hard screens, Diallo was then able to quickly roll his way to the paint. His quickness and 7'3 frame made him a dangerous roll man as he was a great target for any point guard.
Diallo's length and motor made him one of the best prospects in the class of 2015. Both Scout and ESPN had Diallo as a five-star prospect, as he ranked 9th on Scout and 7th by ESPN. Recruited by a plethora of schools that included St. Johns, Kentucky, Pittsburgh and Iowa State, Diallo eventually ended up decided on heading to Kansas where he'd play with Bill Self
From his decision on April 28th until the start of the actual college season, there was a huge dispute between the NCAA and the University of Kansas regarding Diallo's high school transcripts and the legitimacy of Our Savior New American. Those issues prevented Diallo from playing in the team's first five games, until he was cleared to join the Jayhawks before their December 1st matchup against Loyola-Maryland. Diallo impressed in that debut game, as he had 13 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks on 6-8 shooting in only 16 minutes.
That debut game unfortunately ended up as one of the lone bright points of Diallo's time with the Kansas Jayhawks. That initial five-game suspension meant that Diallo never really got an opportunity to get his toes wet within Self's system or build chemistry with the team's veteran group of players. While he did show some flashes in their non-conference schedule, Self rightfully decided to depend on more experienced players once conference play started. That decision ended up working as the Jayhawks entered post-season play as the #1 team in the country.
Averaging 3.0 points and 2.5 rebounds in only 7 minutes per game, it was apparent that college basketball just wasn't for Cheick Diallo. Shortly after Kansas lost to Villanova in the Elite Eight, Diallo announced that he'd declarefor the NBA Draft without signing an agent. Despite Diallo having an opportunity to head back to Kansas, everyone at Kansas including Bill Self expected him to head to the NBA.
Those expectations came to fruition after Diallo impressed at the NBA Draft Combine. Averaging 13.5 points, 7 boards and 3 blocks per game during the two games, Diallo stood out by having that same level of intensity that he displayed during the prior year's McDonald's All-American game and Jordan Brand Classic. In an NBA Draft Combine recap piece, we said the following about Diallo's performance:
Over the two games, Diallo displayed a lot more offensive versatility than anybody could've expected. Diallo exhibited abilities to work the offensive glass, make off-ball cuts, work the right block and even hit a 20-foot jumper. Those offensive skills were especially displayed on Thursday, as the 6'9 Diallo put up 18 points on 7-10 shooting.
Although Diallo impressed NBA scouts with his solid offensive work, his main "bread and butter" still rests with his potential as a rim protector. Despite being undersized at 6'9, Diallo more than makes up for it with a 7'4 wingspan and incredible athleticism. For an inexperienced player, Diallo showed a surprising amount of defensive awareness, as he was regularly in the right position to swat the ball away without having to draw a foul.
With his Draft Combine performance, Diallo undoubtedly answered many the questions that people had after a disappointing college career. Signing with an agent hours after the Combine wrapped up, Cheick Diallo solidified himself as a viable 1st round option.
Following that incredibly solid NBA Draft Combine performance, Diallo seems to be back on track as an NBA Draft prospect. Since that performance, Diallo has jumped from being an early 2nd round pick to now projected as to Boston's 23th pick in DraftExpress' latest mock draft. Being picked in that range actually makes a lot of sense for Diallo, as teams in the late 1st round are usually playoff teams with solid organizational makeup. Alongside of that, most teams in that range, with the exceptions being the Hawks and Clippers, have their own D-League squad.
That would be extremely important for Diallo as he simply needs a lot more experience after being a bench warmer at Kansas. A spot with a D-League squad would finally give Diallo a consistent role within the team's rotation while also allowing him to work against quality D-League talent on a night-by-night basis. Alongside those two qualities, Diallo would be given the opportunity to play within the system of the NBADL's parent team, which would help get him ready to eventually play in the NBA.
An example that NBA squads could look at in regards to Diallo is with Dakari Johnson's development with the Oklahoma City Blue. Like Diallo, Johnson worked mainly as a bench warmer during his time at Kentucky, so he utilized the D-League to simply give him more experience. That definitely worked out as Johnson made a lot of improvements with the Blue, as we covered in a February piece.
Whoever decides to take a chance on Cheick Diallo in the Draft will be getting a prospect with a bevy of upside. Diallo's motor, athleticism and length show a player that could eventually turn into a solid two-way player, in the same mold as Ed Davis or Tristan Thompson. It might take a lot of time time and effort to develop Diallo to the level of those two players, but the former high school standout definitely has the potential to be a game-changing player.