New Pelicans big man Cheick Diallo gets his first 'last laugh'
When freshman big men Cheick Diallo or Carlton Bragg Jr. barely played in a particular game this past season, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self liked to say after such an outing the two forwards would get the “last laugh.” Self knew both Diallo and Bragg would one day become NBA players, maybe even have long careers, but had his reasons for not giving the youngsters minutes in particular situations.
Diallo beat Bragg to the first “last laugh” Thursday night, when 6-foot-9 post player from Kayes, Mali, was taken 33rd overall in the NBA Draft, and the New Orleans Pelicans landed his draft rights. After playing all of 202 minutes and making 33 of his 58 field-goal attempts in college basketball during a one-and-done stop at KU, Diallo was off to the NBA.
The night, of course, didn’t go exactly as planned for Diallo, whose stock slipped enough for him to fall into the early second round. But he had to experience immeasurable satisfaction in proving to himself and his detractors that he was good enough to cash in on his dreams — despite his struggles to get on the court at Kansas.
Still, we’re still probably a couple of years away from Diallo doubling over, full belly laugh style, when thinking about how little he played for the Jayhawks.
He obviously has a long way to go as a player before earning enough respect from his Pelicans coaches and teammates to crack the rotation and execute his defensive intensity/high-energy role.
In the meantime, his position with New Orleans will look similar to the one he took with Kansas, often just cheering wildly from the bench during the most important stretches of games.
In fact, don’t be surprised if Diallo plays even less during his rookie NBA season than he did as a KU freshman (7.5 minutes a game). Next year in particular, Diallo’s weaknesses will be magnified as he adjusts to a massive upward leap in level of competition. You saw how the 19-year-old struggled in the Big 12, and it will only look worse against veteran professional post players. The DNP-CD’s (did not play, coach’s decision) are coming for him as he eases his way into The Association.
The Pelicans knew Diallo would be a few years away from helping the team win games when they traded up to draft him. General manger Dell Demps said Thursday night they targeted the raw prospect anyway, and had him rated higher on their draft board than No. 33, leaving them surprised he even was available at that juncture.
“He’s a young player who is inexperienced,” Demps said. “There is going to be a growing curve. But one thing I can assure you is you’ll never see a lack of effort there. His motor is amazing.”
It’s that same motor — or desire, or push, or however you want to label it — that should work in Diallo’s favor during the most difficult stage of his pro career, the beginning.
“I’m an energy guy,” Diallo said on draft night. “I box out, rebound the ball and protect the rim. That’s what I do. I just want to do everything to make my team look good. I just want to run the floor, block shots and get rebounds.”
He’ll mostly get his chances to do those things he does best during practices, at the NBA Summer League and in some D-League games next season.
Diallo clearly isn’t ready for the NBA yet. But he has the right attitude and thirst for basketball knowledge to get there. Though a second-round pick and a project, he doesn’t have the type of personality to take a half-hearted approach to anything.
As Diallo said before the draft about playing at the next level:
“It’s my dream. I’m trying to make this happen, so I don’t have a second option.”
In time, though, he might have a few laughs when thinking about how he used to play in garbage time at Allen Fieldhouse, with walk-ons Tyler Self and Evan Manning.