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, today, we break down Virginia big man Mamadi Diakite.
Mamadi Diakite (MAH-muh-dee dee-uh-KEE-tay) is a 6-foot-9, 224-pound big man who originated from Conakry, Guinea, the capital of a country on the west coast of Africa. He was a late arrival to the sport of basketball, playing just two seasons of high school ball before continuing his amateur career at the University of Virginia.
Diakite was part of a Virginia squad that had an eventful few years as a top ranked program on the national stage. In 2018, they were bounced as the #1 seed to the 16-seeded University of Maryland, Baltimore County Retrievers in a historic tournament upset. 2019 fourth overall pick De’Andre Hunter was not available due to injury for that very postseason run that was short-lived.
Despite suffering one of the most difficult losses in college basketball history, the Hoos were able to run it back and march all the way to the championship the next year with Hunter in tow, in case you have been living under a rock for the past 18 months (in which case, please let me join your rock bottom hideout).
After averaging no more than 7.4 points per game in his first three seasons, Diakite upped his average to 13.7 after seeing NBA-bound players like Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy leave campus. Diakite did a lot of grunt work in 134 appearances for Virginia, chipping in with 7.1 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per 36 minutes over his career.
His per 36 figures were weighed down by the tedious and deliberate pace at which head coach Tony Bennett prefers to play. Virginia was dead last in pace out of over 350 Division I teams in each of the last five seasons, averaging right around 60 possessions per game compared to a division average of around 68 over the same span.
Diakite was the linchpin of a couple of elite college defenses in Charlottesville the past two seasons, using his 7-foot-3 wingspan to affect shots and alter trajectories. Let me be more specific, though. He doesn’t just block shots, he generally erases them with an exclamation point. It’s no rare occurrence to see a shot swatted into the third row of the crowd when Diakite is defending the paint. Below, however, is one of the tamer rejections he recorded.
Displaying incredible activity at all times, Diakite can defend all over the court — especially around the perimeter — with impressive range. Tony Bennett’s scheme calls for aggressive trapping near the sideline and packing the paint when possible. This means Diakite has free rein to roam around and sniff out offensive players in trouble, forcing them to pick up their dribble. Even when he’s left on an island against a smaller guy, though, he can still harass them to the point of tossing up ugly shots.
But Diakite doesn’t just move around haphazardly, rather he uses his extremely high defensive IQ to snuff out dangerous situations to cause chaos for opponents. Pick-and-roll ball handlers shouldn’t be surprised when they turn the corner and see a hard Diakite hedge as the help defender on screens.
Additionally, he became more comfortable defending without fouling over time, cutting his foul rate every season at Virginia. He went from above 5 fouls per 36 minutes in each of his first two seasons to 3.5 and then 2.2 in his last two seasons respectively as his on court smarts and positioning improved.
Diakite finishes at the rim well — in transition and in the halfcourt game — at 1.19 PPP (points per possession) per Synergy. He runs the court enthusiastically and dives down the lane for easy buckets when space opens up. He is a willing screener, despite his thin frame, and generally handles contact well on the defensive end.
One layer Diakite added to his game at Virginia was catching-and-shooting, especially from behind the arc. He began to really flash some ability to shoot as a senior, taking almost 2 threes per game and knocking them down at a 36.4% rate.
This clip shows a nice series of three picks before popping to knock down the wing three.
His easy shot motion coupled with a decent 72.1% career percentage from the free throw line provides real hope he can consistently knock down open shots at the next level.
Despite being 23, Diakite is still very raw. He came off the bench in his freshman and sophomore seasons before entering the starting lineup over the last two seasons. But as mentioned above, he only has six years of high level basketball experience under his belt so it’s very generous to call him a late bloomer.
Mostly just a putback artist and rim runner, Diakite is pretty limited offensively. He didn’t develop much of a post game in four seasons, finishing his senior season with a ghastly — especially so for a 6-foot-9 player — 0.84 PPP in 121 post up possessions ending in a shot. His so-so touch around the rim with either hand, excluding dunks, combined with his frail frame were major reasons behind this poor performance there.
The below clip is a wild display where he tries a fadeaway shot from the post area to no avail.
His shaky, though improving, jump shot means he is not yet a floor spacer on offense, which necessitates surrounding him with shooters. In addition, he has no handle of which to speak, and it’s a fool’s errand to count on him to create for others or even for himself except in rare occasions. He’ll often barrel through contact regardless of how the defense is set up without much of a plan.
He has a tendency to fumble passes and generally look uncomfortable in a triple-threat stance. This contributed to turning the ball over over three times more than he assisted teammates over his career.
There’s also some worry he’s marginally too short and much too thin to play center full-time. At that position, Diakite can get pushed around trying to grab boards, as indicated by a pedestrian — for a big man anyway — 7.1 rebounds per 36 minutes. Maybe with some NBA-level weights and conditioning he can help remedy this, but he’s already nearing his physical peak age-wise.
Even as the league moves away from plodding 7-footers, it’s necessary to look toward guys like P.J. Tucker as an example for substituting strength for height while remaining effective. Diakite’s 224-pound frame obviously doesn’t have nearly that kind of lower base stoutness to allow this same type of role. But Diakite begins to poses major spacing issues on the offensive end should he play up a position or two.
Possible fit with the Hawks
Peachtree Hoop’s own Glen Willis wrote a wonderful profile of Diakite a year ago, but his stock has changed a bit since then. He definitely showed some marked improvements in his game over the last truncated season. These improvements helped land him on the second team All-ACC Team and the All-Defensive Team in 2019-20.
For a Hawks team that desperately needs defense, and certainly interior defense, Diakite checks off these boxes. He doesn’t fit the shoot-pass-dribble archetype at all but he’ll do just about everything else a coaching staff asks of him.
I’m personally a big fan of Diakite despite obvious drawbacks. Diakite is among the oldest prospects in this class, turning 24 in January. But put plainly, he’ll make any team’s defense better by protecting the rim and switching on screens as good as any big in the draft.
As the pro game moves towards rangier and more fluid big men defenders, Diakite’s game falls right in line with the progression of the modern NBA game. He projects to fit in at the center spot or power forward spot, or even as a big wing defender in a pinch. As such, he could be very interesting at No. 50, if he is available, to possibly slot in as Atlanta’s fifth big man behind John Collins, Clint Capela, Bruno Fernando and Dewayne Dedmon.