OKC Thunder's Hamidou Diallo retakes key bench role: 'We're starting off fresh'
Hamidou Diallo was the first man up Saturday afternoon when Billy Donovan turned to his bench to replace starting guard Luguentz Dort.
Diallo entered late in the first quarter and promptly collected a steal. The second-year guard played 20 minutes and finished with nine points and four rebounds in the Thunder’s 110-94 win against the Jazz.
The Thunder’s three scrimmages offered hints that Diallo could be in line for a larger role, but Saturday was confirmation. In a backup wing competition that includes Andre Roberson, Terrance Ferguson and Abdel Nader, it’s Diallo who’s emerged as the preferred option at least early on.
“We wanted to put him on Donovan Mitchell, but most of his time was spent on (Jordan) Clarkson,” Donovan said. “Clarkson got away from him a couple times in that first half, but I thought Hami worked really hard defensively and did some really, really good things.”
Clarkson, who’s averaging 15.2 points per game, was held to 11 points on 4-of-17 shooting.
“It’s really hard to say something about him defensively, because there wasn’t really much to critique about him in the first place, at least in my eyes,” Thunder rookie Darius Bazley said of Diallo. “He kinda was the one helping me out defensively, and still is sometimes, even in the course of a game.”
Diallo’s minutes might have been matchup dependent against Utah, but more will be learned at 3 p.m. Monday when the Thunder faces the Nuggets.
Diallo entered his sophomore season with a role much like he held Saturday. The former second-round pick was averaging 21 minutes per game heading into a Nov. 22 home game against the Lakers.
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A collision with LeBron James that night changed Diallo’s season.
Diallo immediately grabbed his right elbow as he fell to the court. It was the same right elbow he had arthroscopic surgery on in April 2019. The diagnosis this time was a hyperextension sprain, and Diallo would miss the next 17 games.
“It’s hard to get back in when you’ve been gone that long and then there’s games coming right away and you’re trying to find your rhythm,” Donovan said.
Diallo’s playing time dipped when he returned Dec. 31, and he registered six “DNP (did not play) — coach’s decision” from Feb. 5 to March 4. However, in the three games before the shutdown, Diallo was back up to 21 minutes per game.
“We had some other guys step up and play well,” Donovan said, “but I’ve always felt like Hami is a great team guy, he’s got really, really good upside, and again, I think with young players, when they have this time off like they did, I think he was able to have the game slow down a lot for himself and figure out a way to be effective.”
Diallo said he used the four-month break to improve his outside shooting and ball handling. Diallo’s offensive contributions have been limited to transition buckets and attacking the rim. He’s shooting just 21% from 3-point range in his young career.
Saturday he shot 2-of-2 from behind the arc.
“It’s all confidence and it’s all mental,” Diallo said.
“His shot has gotten a lot better I think,” Bazley said, “and that’s probably the biggest change that I’ve seen. I love playing with him, just because we’re gonna get out, we’re gonna run, we’re gonna get stops and it’s just fun.”
When Chris Paul was asked after the game about the growth he’s seen from his young teammates, Paul mentioned how excited he was to see Diallo play like he did.
The elbow injury stunted Diallo’s progress midseason, but the time off allowed him to catch up and reset.
“It was like an extra summer,” Diallo said, “and it feels like we’re starting off fresh.”
Thunder vs. Nuggets
When: 3 p.m. Monday
Where: ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Fla.
TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37)