Through the first two games for Kentucky, Hamidou Diallo has been the Wildcats’ main man on the floor and has shown glimpses as to why he was such a key get in recruiting for the ‘Cats last year.
In 55 total minutes through Kentucky’s two victories over Utah Valley and Vermont, Diallo leads the ‘Cats in points per game (17.0), player efficiency rating (24.1), assist percentage (27.6 percent) and he’s made three of his six attempts from 3-point range to start the season.
Like virtually everyone on the Kentucky roster, Diallo has shown flashes and struggles through the first 80 minutes of the season heading into their huge clash in the Champions Classic against No. 4 Kansas on Tuesday night.
"You're going to drive the ball or I will sub you,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said after the Wildcats’ second exhibition game against Morehead State, via Fletcher Page of The Courier-Journal. “It's not that hard. So shoot a three, you're coming out."
There’s two sides to that coin just like there’s two sides to that quote. Diallo has made half of his 3-point attempts so far this season, but at 6-foot-4 (without shoes) and a 7-0.25-inch (!) wingspan, Calipari wants one of his prized recruits to attack, attack and attack some more.
There’s driving the ball and then there’s driving the ball under control and with a purpose. Diallo made this shot attempt at the rim harder on himself by trying to avoid the contact, rather than absorb it with his size and strength (and probably would’ve gotten a shooting foul in the process).
Then there’s this play, which is a play that should look familiar if you watched anything that little ol’ Tyler Ulis did during his time in Lexington. Diallo pulls down the rebound (which also helps show you just how big he really is) and pushes the ball up the floor quickly after a minor mishandle on the grab.
So far, so good on this possession.
Where many people watching at home (and in all likelihood, Calipari) probably had a problem is the shot attempt. Diallo had a chance to attack the middle of the Utah Valley defense, but pulled up for an 18-foot jumper that fell short. You would think those are the kinds of opportunities where Calipari wants Diallo to be aggressive, right?
Look at the shot closely.
A huge key for Kentucky this season with their lack of shooters is the ability to take good shots. This isn’t a bad shot. Sure, you’d like to see Diallo be more aggressive, but this was taking what the defense gave him. (Plus, talking about Tyler Ulis is always a good thing.)
Shield your eyes, Cal. (Actually, don’t ... because this is good.) In all seriousness, this might have been one of, if not, Kentucky’s best offensive possessions they’ve had in the first two games.
This was good basketball from the ‘Cats. PJ Washington gets doubled on the right block on a post-up, so he kicks back to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. SGA moves the ball to Nick Richards at the top of key (where you see some of Calipari’s more talented bigs shoot face-up jumpers from). Richards kicks to Kevin Knox, who swings to Diallo without a hint of hesitation. Diallo sets his feet and drains a left corner triple.
Not only is that key for Diallo to make perimeter jumpers and keep defenses honest, that’s true for the entire roster this season.
(Maybe him shooting 3s isn’t all bad, Cal. Maybe.)
“If that’s who Hami is every night, we’re going to be fine,” Calipari said after the Utah Valley win that saw Diallo carry the ‘Cats offensively in the second half, via Kyle Tucker of SEC Country.
“Now, defensively, he’s got a long way to go. But he’s now saying, ‘Coach, tell me how you want me to play offensively,’ and he’s playing that way.”
He’s right. Diallo has the second-worst defensive rating (103.4) on the roster and like a lot of guys that have played for Calipari, he’s still learning how to find that balance of filling a heavy offensive load and not being a minus defensively.
Still, when Diallo can do things like this, you see why Calipari has spoken so highly of him since he committed.
The ‘Cats look like a young November team. There’s no denying that. They don’t have the feel of a team that’s anywhere near ready for a team like Kansas.
But, they’re facing Kansas in the third game of the season and not in the middle of their season like they did when they lost at home last season against the Jayhawks for the SEC-Big XII Challenge.
Tuesday night is more about the glitz and glamour of the spotlight, rather than truly gauging how good Diallo and the ‘Cats will be this season.
Still, even with the negativity surrounding some sectors of Big Blue Nation already, there’s no denying that Diallo has the potential to be a mega-star down the line if things start to click.