In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will be profiled in this space and, in this edition, we take a look at Cal State Northridge forward Lamine Diane.
The 2020 NBA Draft class is a difficult one to evaluate for a number of reasons. First, the COVID-19 pandemic cut the 2019-20 college basketball season short, allowing for fewer opportunities to monitor game film. From there, several top-tier prospects battled injuries and/or elected to shut things down early due to other reasons, including maintenance of draft stock. Finally, the 2020 group wasn’t ever considered to be elite in terms of overall talent and, with a dearth of top-tier options, opinions vary wildly on many available prospects, all the way to the top of the lottery.
With that as the backdrop, Cal State Northridge forward Lamine Diane is both interesting and perilously difficult to evaluate for many reasons. Diane, who is listed at 6’7 and 205 pounds, was a three-star high school prospect out of Findlay Prep in Nevada and, with his pedigree, it might feel surprising that Diane ended up in the Big West Conference. Diane is also significantly older than most prospects, turning 23 years old in November despite only two seasons of college performance to track.
Diane took a redshirt year as a result of a wrist injury in 2017-18 — further contributing to his placement as an older prospect in the 2020 draft class — and he also ran into academic issues in the first semester of the 2019-20 campaign. As a result, he appeared in only 52 games at the college level but, because of the way Diane was able to produce, the talented forward was able to garner back-to-back Big West Player of the Year awards.
Candidly, the Big West does not present the most overwhelmingly difficult competition, and that fuels the fire of this difficult evaluation. Still, Diane was dominant at the college level, averaging 25.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.6 steals per game in those 52 career appearances.
While Diane does have collegiate eligibility remaining, he declared for the 2020 draft in early April and, in short order, made it clear that he wouldn’t be returning to Cal State Northridge. As such, he doesn’t have the same kind of decision that many projected second round (or undrafted) prospects will be making in the coming days, producing even more intrigue about where he might land.
Athletically, Diane stood out in a significant way in the Big West and, while he may not be an uber-elite athlete, he is certainly an above-average one. He is a terror in transition, pushing the ball aggressively in gran-and-go situations, and Diane’s motor is persistent and highly appealing.
One of the questions about Diane’s game is with his jump shot, with a 66 percent mark at the line in his second season. That 66 percent mark did represent an improvement from his first campaign, though, and his mid-range shooting was actually quite effective in college. Still, Diane converted only 28.6 percent of his three-point attempts on only mild volume (2.9 attempts per game) and, to reach his ceiling, shooting is an area in which he must tangibly improve.
Diane isn’t without offensive weapons, though, and he maintained strong efficiency despite out-of-this-world usage (38 percent) at Cal State Northridge. He produced an obscenely high free throw rate, attempted 14.6 shots per 100 possessions at the charity stripe this season. While that almost certainly can’t continue, Diane’s grab-and-go ability and aggressiveness in attacking the rim are quite valuable. He also was quite efficient in the restricted area, shooting 72.5 percent at the rim despite only having 48.5 percent of his field goals assisted to be teammates. To put it plainly, he was often a one-man band.
As a play-maker, there are definitely questions, though they may be eased in the smaller role that he will have to play in the NBA. Diane’s assist rate did jump to 18.2 percent in his second season and, as a passer, there were some nice flashes along the way. He was prone to carelessness, though, and that resulted in 4.9 turnovers per 100 possessions in his career.
Defensively, Diane is definitely a mixed bag, though his motor is fun to watch in almost any circumstance. He produced a very encouraging 6.2 percent career block rate, and Diane showed strong help-side instincts on film. He won’t have the kind of raw athletic advantages that he enjoyed in college when arriving in the NBA, but Diane is also a very good defensive rebounder (24.9 percent DREB in two seasons) and that provides optimism about his translation to being an NBA power forward.
In an overall sense, Diane is thoroughly difficult to evaluate, in part because of the poor competition. He truly did dominate the Big West, and his athleticism really pops, as evidence by his leaping, quickness and ability to change ends rapidly. Diane wasn’t always consistent in his performance, though, and his motor, while a weapon, can only carry him so far without skill development and the ability to carve out a flexible NBA role.
At present, Diane lands at No. 60 for The Athletic and at No. 71 for ESPN in terms of NBA Draft big boards, and it is far from a lock that he’ll be selected in October. Teams — like the Atlanta Hawks — with picks in the back half of the second round will certainly want to take a deep look at Diane’s tape, however, and there is a lot to like in his evaluation.
Comparisons to Pascal Siakam have followed Diane since he began dominating at the college level and, in some ways, you can see why when comparing the college film. More realistically, Diane likely isn’t going to reach the All-Star level that Siakam has achieved. If he can harness his motor, intriguing mid-range game, rim attacking and defensive potential into a total package, though, it would be silly to let his advanced age and competition questions rule Diane out of consideration with picks outside the top 40.