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Cheick Diallo is on track to become a successful big man in the NBA

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The 2016 second round pick continues to trend very positively.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Los Angeles Clippers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The appropriate question to ponder is no longer if but rather when Cheick Diallo will become a successful NBA player.

Through 16 games and 399 minutes played in the NBA D-League, Diallo is averaging some eye-popping per 36 minute stats for a young rookie: 19.3 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.9 blocks and 2.2 turnovers. In addition to the impressive raw numbers, he is shooting an even 50.0% from the field and 74.3% from the free throw line.

Among all other 20 year-old or younger big men who have appeared in 200 or more minutes in the D-League, Diallo has arguably the most successful stat line because of his combination of efficiency, scoring, rebounding and rim protection.

Minutes Points per 36 Rebounds per 36 Blocks per 36 Turnovers per 36 FG% FT%
Diamond Stone 282 26.8 11.6 1.7 4.5 49.1% 82.6%
Cheick Diallo 399 19.3 11.1 2.9 2.2 50.0% 74.3%
Henry Ellenson 421 19.1 9.5 1.1 1.9 43.3% 88.2%
Ivica Zubac 389 18.8 11.6 1.2 3.9 57.8% 82.9%
Skal Labissiere 527 17.3 8.8 1.5 2.9 45.7% 70.8%
Chinanu Onuaku 731 16.7 13.2 1.7 3.7 66.0% 71.6%
Stephen Zimmerman 593 16.3 11.0 1.6 3.0 48.9% 61.1%
Georgios Papagiannis 560 14.9 9.4 2.6 2.2 50.2% 70.0%

Just how good is a 19-point, 10-rebound, 2-block and 50 FG% effort for 20 years of age or less in the D-League based on per 36 minutes statistics with a minimum of 200 minutes playing time? Well, it’s only been matched one other time since the 2007-08 campaign (the beginning season in the NBA D-League Stats database).

Back in 2008-09, Kosta Koufos had a pace of 20.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.1 blocks and 2.3 turnovers, with a 56.6 FG% and 60.0 FT% to boot. That success has translated into a successful 9-year NBA career in which he currently has an above average PER, VORP and win share per 48 minutes.

If one expands the parameters to include 21 and 22 year-olds, only three other names are added to the list.

Season Age Minutes Points per 36 Rebounds per 36 Blocks per 36 Turnovers per 36 FG% FT%
Alexis Ajinca 2009-10 22 572 20.2 10.4 4.3 4.2 54.6% 74.8%
Clint Capela 2014-15 21 928 23.6 14.3 4.4 2.7 60.1% 59.6%
Christian Wood 2016-17 21 540 23.5 12.1 3.1 2.7 50.6% 72.5%

Based on Diallo’s size, quickness and athleticism, it’s promising to see Clint Capela’s name. Often also considered undersized, Capela is the Houston Rockets starting center, and he has fit well at the five in Mike D’Antoni’s offense. However, there is reason to perhaps be more excited about Diallo’s future when glancing at their D-League shot charts.

Diallo’s shot chart

NBA D-League Stats

Capela’s shot chart

NBA D-League Stats

Capela was — and remains — a one-trick pony, hence why it was mandatory he be able to succeed at the center position. Diallo, on the other hand, is showing potential to play power forward at the next level because of his ability to step out on the perimeter and knock down a jumper. Further, note his 74.3 FT% is significantly higher than a 55.6 FT% during his lone year at Kansas. The sample sizes are indeed small, but his shooting motion passes the eye-test so the improvement could very well be real.

As a side note, great job by the Charlotte Hornets to sign Christian Wood off the 76ers most recent summer league team in Utah. With his size and athleticism and an improving jumper, he may soon be able to carve out a rotation role with the Hornets.

Since I’ve posted so few comparisons for Diallo, let’s take a look at the list of players who just missed qualifying for the above parameters.

Season Age Minutes Points per 36 Rebounds per 36 Blocks per 36 Turnovers per 36 FG% FT%
Ian Mahimi 2007-08 21 1360 20.4 9.7 2.1 3.3 61.5% 76.6%
Alexis Ajinca 2008-09 21 250 18.9 10.8 2.9 4.0 47.5% 79.5%
Terrence Jones 2012-13 21 741 22.2 10.5 1.6 2.0 47.9% 69.4%
Rudy Gobert 2013-14 22 216 18.5 15.1 4.0 1.8 74.1% 70.5%
James McAdoo 2014-15 22 1081 21.5 9.5 2.2 2.6 57.5% 68.5%
Jordan Mickey 2015-16 21 767 18.8 11.1 4.7 2.3 53.1% 74.5%
Montrezl Harrell 2015-16 22 467 22.4 8.6 2.2 2.6 53.3% 65.4%

Not a bad list of names at all, wouldn’t you say?

Cheick Diallo has bounced around the D-League (he’s currently on his third team) as well as been called up several times to the Pelicans. Despite never getting off the bench most nights in the NBA, the disjointed combination of his D-League performances still rank higher than nearly all those who have come before him.

However one feels about the front office in New Orleans, they deserve a lot of credit for trading up to take a chance on Diallo because he’s on pace to make a sizable impact on a professional roster.