Most of the discussion surrounding the NBA draft focuses on the top picks, and even more so in the Houston Rockets’ case, as Houston secured the worst record in the NBA and received the 3rd pick in the 2022 NBA draft.
Aside from that, though, the Rockets also have the 17th pick in the draft which they acquired from the Brooklyn in the James Harden deal, so let’s shed some light on the prospects that should be available around that range.
Next up: Ousmane Dieng (born on May 21st, 2003).
Continuing in the line of tall, lanky, and skilled wings, the 6’10 Ousmane Dieng, one of the most polarizing prospects in the draft, plays like a mix between Nikola Jovic and Jeremy Sochan. Theoretically, he has Jovic’s ball-handling, strong playmaking feel, touch, and 3-point accuracy, while also being an elite switch defender like Sochan, who’s capable of using his length and tools to make an impact off the ball.
The keyword, however, is theoretically. Dieng looked like a deer in headlights to start the season. If he were able to display that skillset on a regular basis, he would’ve been considered a top 5 pick by many, but he started the year horribly, struggling with the physicality of the NBL league, the language barrier, and getting used to a different role, before breaking out in the 2nd half or the season.
Before diving into his game, I feel like it’s important to mention that Dieng is just different. Other prospects are fairly consistent with their strengths and weaknesses, and what they can and can not do. But with Ousmane, he seemed to improve on every weakness as the season went on, and looked like a different player by the game.
Here’s an example. At the start of the season, Dieng refused to drive when there were bodies inside the paint, attempting 18 of his first 28 shots from behind the arc despite going through a horrible shooting slump at the time. By game 19, he was trying all kinds of moves, getting into his bag when going downhill:
That type of improvement was consistent among all aspects of his game, big or small. Energy transfer and rhythm on 3-point shots, defensive consistency and awareness off the ball, passing to the roller “Early” when driving. When scouting a prospect, you want to see him improve on his shortcomings as a sign of his work ethic and potential, and no one has done it this year as well as Dieng.
The two elements of Ousmane Dieng’s game which consistently shined during the season are perimeter passing, and perimeter defense, so let’s start with that.
Once he got more comfortable, Dieng received a boatload of pick and roll reps at the top of the key, and when facing aggressive coverages, he was capable of manipulating the low man and finding the open man time after time. His passing ability, off the catch and off a live dribble is uncommon for players his size:
Coming into the season, I expected Dieng to, like, Jovic, be one of these Europeans 4 with a strong offensive skillset and middling defense at best. Turns out, he’s actually one of the most switchable defenders in the entire class, sliding his feet very well, covering ground with large strides, and staying in front while using his wingspan to contest.
His lack of strength and physicality limits him against physical drivers at times, but his tools, technique, and mobility make for a uniquely elite combo. Once he gets stronger and more experienced, it’s easy to see him becoming one of the most versatile on-ball defenders in the entire NBA:
That’s about where the NBA-ready part of Dieng’s game ends. The rest of it beholds some eye-gazing flashes and unfortunate limitations, so let’s dive into it.
In interviews, Dieng calls himself a 6’10 guard- and that’s exactly what he plays like, to a fault. Ousmane flourishes as the ball handler in screen actions and attempts to score in isolation when a switch against the big arrives. You won’t see him do “big” stuff on the offensive end, ignoring any size advantage he might have over his matchup, constantly operating from the perimeter.
Dieng’s size makes him much different than the vast majority of players whose play style he replicates. To start, his lack of speed hinders him as an advantage creator, rarely being able to generate paint touches in the half-court without a screen. His overall lack of a scoring gravity caused him to generate fewer easy looks than his passing ability would lead you to expect, averaging just over an assist per game. Too often, Dieng would settle for a tough jumper, instead of actively looking for the best shot available:
What happens when he does get a screen and the defense doesn’t put 2 on the ball, though? This is where Dieng becomes much tougher to guard. Sporting arguably the best floater touch in the class, Ousmane Dieng is a killer in the in-between area. He’s always calm and collected as a driver, and his length makes it near-impossible to contest his runners. Dieng shot 51.4% on 2s over the past season, and 59% over his final 12 games, a terrific number considering his shot diet:
Dieng’s lack of athleticism, and most importantly his strength, does hinder him as a driver at times, a weakness I feel will be often exploited in the NBA. He struggles to finish against contact, and rarely creates it, sporting a porous 13 FTr% over the past season.
Scoring on similarly sized defenders in the restricted area is concerning enough, but if Dieng won’t develop an ability to punish smaller players, what stops the defense from pressuring him with smaller, pesky guards, rendering his advantages as a tall-ball-handler inconsequential?
It’s evident Dieng is a guard who needs screens to get downhill, and when he does get them, he’s already mastered the shot the defense wants to give up. One more key question remains: Will he be able to get defenses to go “over” the screens repeatedly, creating a driving lane? We’ve seen players like Deni Avdija show off an intriguing pick and roll skillset overseas prior to getting drafted, then fail to make use of it in the NBA as their shooting limitations are too large a hill to overcome.
Being a pull-up threat from deep is a crucial skill for every player who ever dreams of creating his own offense from the perimeter, and while Ousmane understands that, making the step-back 3 a substantial feature of his game, the results are currently lacking.
Dieng shot 27% from 3 in each of his last 2 seasons playing professional basketball, with many of his 3-point attempts coming off the dribble. His form is a bit inconsistent at times, leading to games where he looks like a knockdown shooter, and others where he can barely hit iron. An Improvement as a shooter is essential for every offensive role he may play at the next level:
If there’s anything to learn from Tyrese Maxey’s and Lamelo Ball’s NBA translation, is that the percentage which a player shoots from deep at age 18 is not necessarily the percentage he’ll shoot at age 25, or even 21. Floater touch is a great indicator for futuristic projection of 3-point shooting, and that’s a test Dieng passes with flying colors. Dieng is also shooting 77% from the free-throw line over the past 3 seasons, yet another positive indicator, and that’s not even mentioning his confidence from behind the arc.
Dieng attempts to play like a combo-guard, yet despite his passing flashes, I haven’t seen him have the feel for the game that may prove to be necessary to play the position.
Take this play, for example. Dieng has an open lane to the basket but keeps running the play instead of capitalizing, failing to realize the advantage was already created, before picking up the ball unprovoked. Of course, this type of mistake is fairly common among young ball handlers, but it does show that Dieng may not have an outlier feel for the game, the type that might be required for him to play a creator’s role in the NBA with his athletic limitations.
One more thing that needs to be pointed out is that Ousmane Dieng’s handle is *legit*. Sure, the speed is lacking. But the ability to get low and the counters which he already possesses could make him a really tough cover for any defense:
So how does Dieng compare to his peers as a prospect on the offensive end?
He offers a highly-compelling package of skills, with outlier touch, mobility, and poise for his size, a crucial swing skill (shooting), and a primary weakness that is easily improved upon under NBA training (strength). His rate of improvement stands out, and while I wouldn’t bet on him to become a star, seeing as he lacks the ability to create easy shots or take advantage of his size on a regular basis, his upside to become a versatile offensive wing who’s adept at passing, dribbling, and shooting is evident and reachable.
Dieng is seen as one of the biggest “upside swings” in the class, yet his strong foundation of skills in all areas is evident. As long as his shooting reaches respectable levels- and I fully believe it will- It is easy to see how he projects well as a do-it-all offensive player. I will concede, however, that His success in the NBA largely varies by the team that selects him, and I’m already excited to see how he plays in 5 years.
. Circling back to Ousmane Dieng’s defense, while his team defense isn’t as impressive as his on-ball work, there’s a lot to like with his potential as a help defender.
Dieng made an impact as a weakside rotator for the Breakers. He has a good defensive motor, actively looking to help, and utilizes his size and 7-foot wingspan to vertically contest at the rim, block shots on occasion and disrupt lazy passes. He does fall asleep at times when not guarding the ball, isn’t physical to a fault, and seems unaware of his responsibilities when playing the 5, but it is easy to project him as a plus defender off the ball at the NBA level:
The biggest knock on Dieng is that he doesn’t utilize his 6’10 frame on offense. Thankfully, that isn’t the case on defense, where he’s capable of playing like a guard ( switching 1-4, disrupting passing lanes), and like a power forward (contesting vertically at the rim), though more strength, physicality, and better screen navigation would help in both departments.
The case for Ousmane Dieng revolves around upside and versatility. Assuming the shooting stabilizes, Dieng projects as someone who can guard and play multiple positions, potentially contributing as a swiss army knife and fitting well in any structure. Those are the players who see their value rise come postseason time, and are able to leave their mark against all matchups.
Drafting players as raw as Ousmane Dieng is how you get to pick Giannis Antetokonmpo at pick 13, and Sekou Doumboya at pick 15. I believe Dieng will end up becoming a versatile role player who is average-to-above-average at shooting, dribbling, passing, and defending, thus making him a worthy lottery pick, though it might take him a while.