- Adam Finkelstein
If you know anything about ESPN 100 big man Cheick Diallo (No. 11) it’s that he’s known for his high motor and athleticism. He runs and jumps with ease, brings tremendous energy to the floor and is an outstanding defender. But what does that equate to in terms of how he’ll be utilized at the college level? Here’s an idea of what to expect next season, regardless of where he ends up.
The big knock on Diallo is that he hasn’t refined his interior skill set, particularly with his back to the basket. The reality, though, is that most college teams don’t look to post their bigs nearly as consistently as they used to, instead using them more in pick-and-roll or catch-and-finish situations.
Diallo fits well into both of those. He’s a phenominal finisher who is both quick off his feet and explosive at the rim. He’s also very quick for a guy his size and that’s especially valuable in the pick-and-roll because he’ll run to the rim or create quick separation from the ball handler, preventing opposing post defenders from being able to “hedge” or “show.” That will help contain the ball handler without requiring a third defender to rotate over and meet the roll. In other words, put Diallo together with a guard who can turn the corner off his screen, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find two defenders who can cover it without help.
Because Diallo isn’t much of a post threat, he’ll likely be positioned on the weak side of the floor when he’s not in a ball-screen, potentially in the short corner. That’s ideal positioning both to receive shovel passes from driving guards as well as for offensive rebounding, not just because typically 75 percent of rebounds come off to the opposite side. But also because by leaving the post open, the guards will have better driving opportunities, leading to shorter shots and thus shorter rebounds, as opposed to teams who shoot a lot of jumpers.
While Diallo lacks much of a perimeter skill set, his passing ability and mobility would allow him to play alongside another big as well, which would most likely lead to “roll and replace” action, where one big is in ball-screen action on the strong side of the floor and the opposite big “reads” off the ball-screener, thus popping to the perimeter if he rolls to the rim or ducking in to post up if the ball-screener pops to the perimeter. While Diallo wouldn’t be a shooting threat on the perimeter, he can be an effective passer and could also pass and chase into secondary pick-and-roll action.
Finally, Diallo will be an outstanding rim runner, meaning he’ll be a threat to beat opposing big men down the floor, both because he has great speed and because he sprints the floor at every opportunity, thus giving him easy points in transition.
While he may never be the type of big man you throw it to on the block and say “go to work,” he’s a luxury to have because he’s going to score points and impact the game without having to run too many sets for him. That’s something both his coaches and his teammates -- especially the guards -- will value.
Diallo is well known for being a great rebounder and shot blocker, and he will be able to impact the game in those ways from Day 1, but the subtleties in his defensive game are no less important.
He’s a great shot blocker because he’s long, a quick leaper and has instinctive timing, but he’s able to patrol the lane from a wide radius and thus erase mistakes from all over the court. He'll get those block opportunities because of his ability to rotate quickly from off the ball. He also has a very quick second jump, meaning he can contest a shot and then bounce back to get on the defensive glass or contest the follow-up.
On the ball, while he has room on his frame (6-foot-9, 225 pounds) to continue to add muscle mass, he’s already very physical and willing to mix it up inside. That, in addition to his quick feet, allow him the versatility to check both true post players as well as face-up bigs on the perimeter.
The most underrated aspect of Diallo’s defensive impact at the next level will be seen when he's a ball-screen defender. There, his combination of length, strength and agility will again be critical. He’ll not only be able to re-route the ball-handler when he hedges, but he’ll allow his team the versatility to use a variety of different pick-and-roll coverages.
With his energy and athleticism, big man Cheick Diallo has the potential to be a force defensively, on the glass, and in transition.