The Curious Case of Hamidou Diallo
At 7:15 a.m. in the fourth quarter of a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on a sleepy Friday night in November, perhaps the most exciting drama happened for the Detroit Pistons since the team won the Be Very Bad Stakes to turn blue. Chip contender Cade Cunningham (unless you count Cade crossing Jalen Green in the Summer League when mixtapes are more your thing).
With an 87-60 for the Cavs, Saddiq Bey was on the line and shot two very insignificant free throws. After the first time, coach Dwane Casey waves the barely-used fourth-year swingman Hamidou Diallo down from the bench to enter what some Larrikins would mistake for a “basketball game”.
In the clip above, Casey stands up to summon Diallo. Hamidou slowly unfolds from his seat like a scroll that simply won’t stay rolled up tightly, takes off his mask and strolls along the sidelines to the table.
It seemed along the way, without making wild guesses, that Hamidou said something that drew the anger of Casey as he sauntered by. Casey immediately turns around, calls veteran jailer Rodney McGruder instead, and while the camera has meanwhile panned away, you see a rather apathetic Diallo at the very end, who takes his place on the bench again.
Good? No, it would be fair to conclude that it is very not good indeed.
Now we could sit here and throw imaginary arrows at the fake dartboard of possibilities Diallo may or may not have said as he passed the head coach. I would be very skeptical if hard truths ever emerged about what EXACTLY was said (at least until a 30 for 30 is produced on this championship list, with Diallo taking on the role of the problematic Adrian Dantley commercial bait), but we can go with it Assuming it had something to do with Diallo’s dissatisfaction with his current role.
I think that’s a pretty lukewarm attitude to be honest.
Well, this sets off an abundance of point fires that are not easily stifled, aided in part by recent reports that the Pistons are potential suitors for wanton Kings Big Man Marvin Bagley III. But let’s put on our best trilbies and crack the curious case of what the hell is going on.
I think the first starting point is, in fact, Diallo’s current role, or lack of one. It’s pretty clear that since Cade Cunningham made his long-awaited debut against the Orlando Magic on October 30th, Diallo has been the eleventh man in a ten-man rotation. Since Cade’s debut, Diallo has only appeared in two games, a start against Brooklyn the night after Cade’s debut when the rookie was in injury management for the second night of a consecutive game, and a garbage time in a blowout loss to the Bucks on Aug. November.
That’s 26 minutes in two weeks for anyone interested in math.
The bank rotation
Casey recently put on record that both Hamidou and Josh Jackson had been in a fight for minutes and it would be an ongoing competition throughout the season. Jackson, a native of Detroit, wins the first rounds.
#Pistons Dwane Casey on Josh Jackson’s decision making and existence: “He did an excellent job … he keeps it simple and does an excellent job defensively. It will be an ongoing fight between Josh and (Hamidou Diallo). “
– Rod Beard (@detnewsRodBeard) November 10, 2021
Fans have seen this and, unsurprisingly, have not responded positively to Diallo’s lack of engagement, given the banking unit’s obvious constraints and problems earlier in the season, including veteran Cory Joseph and sniper Frank Jackson.
We could sit here all day and talk about the limitations of the banking unit and the need to stagger Cade and Killian Hayes’ minutes more, but that’s not the point.
What I do want to say, however, is that visually it is understandable that Hamidou is frustrated with this perceived double accountability between him and some of the other bankers, but that is the unfortunate reality of the nature of this Pistons unit.
Cory Joseph doesn’t lose his minutes, at least not on Hamidou. Perhaps Saben Lee usurped him as backup point guard (until then he’ll keep igniting the G League), but Hamidou doesn’t play point.
Frank Jackson is theoretically the best shooter on the bench, and although his shot was AWOL, the persistent temptation to drop back to last year’s average keeps him in the rotation. Hamidou, as a career 29% ranged shooter, does not take on the role of gunner.
That leaves Josh Jackson as the only likely path for Hamidou as an athletic presence and secondary playmaker to be true of Casey’s original statement. It is reasonable to assume that Josh’s better defensive sense and a slightly closer jump shot gave him the inside lane in those minutes.
The only other option I can see is a little ball session with Lyles in the center and Diallo as an athletic little foursome, at least while Kelly Olynyk is out, but I digress.
I’ve been shouting quite loudly for more Diallo minutes, but I’ll do my best to get the best lens possible.
Diallo is neither the shooter Frank nor the creator Josh so it is difficult for him to beat these two guys for wing rotation minutes. That’s the cold truth. As a sporty freak, people can sometimes mistake activity for efficiency, especially in a defensive sense. Diallo sometimes tends to either fly around aimlessly and overshot / gamble at games, or more worryingly, just fall asleep right off the bat and get cut behind the door.
The problem is that this is obviously another development year with Team 3-9 sitting with no rise from the abyss approaching on the horizon. There are things that Diallo does well. You don’t have a 35 point game in the NBA that’s a total offensive fool.
The problem I noticed when Diallo was playing was what he was doing out there.
CoJo is a terrible point guard for him and the offense the bank is running leaves him in the corner really ideal for a 29% career 3 point shooter known for his slashes.
– Ben Quagliata (@bensquag) October 29, 2021
As someone rightly pointed out to me in the responses, Diallo is the newest installment in Athletic Slasher Stuck In Three-Point Tundra, after previous iterations with Glenn Robinson III and Sekou Doumbouya.
So even if he was playing, I thought he was a bad cast. Misuse results in bad play, bad play results in you losing your place in the rotation, losing your place in the rotation results in you being part of the garbage time cleanup team, and being part of the garbage time cleanup team leads to you to, well what? we saw last night.
Dealing with the demotion
As our man Ku Khahil said, while Diallo seemed … unimpressed, at no point did he refuse to enter the game, as some initial hasty reports suggest (and as you can see in the video above).
OK everyone. Don’t twist my words. My tweet is right there.
Hamidou Diallo never refused to go inside. He made it a scene and let it be known that he was pissed off.
At no point did he refuse to go inside.
– Ku (@KuKhahil) November 13, 2021
Had Hamidou refused to enter at all, we would have a much more serious discussion about whether he would ever see the floor again and what possible penalties would be imposed, etc.
But that didn’t happen so there’s not much to say here from my perspective. They’d like Hamidou to maybe keep a cooler demeanor and address this internally rather than post it on a public forum when it gushes to himself, but I don’t see much else to really care about in the long run perspective.
I liked that little note from Troy Weaver.
Troy Weaver and Hamidou Diallo just got off the floor and went into the locker room.
– LN. (@ ellenk124) November 13, 2021
Diallo is a weaver guy. He was part of the front office that convened him in Oklahoma City in 2018 and traded him for him last season before giving him an extension in the off-season. Weaver will want Diallo to train in Detroit, for both his own reputation and Diallo’s.
In an incident like this, you want some leadership from the top of your company. Weaver puts an arm around Diallo (at least that’s how I read it) is the first step, and I assume Casey and Diallo will address that privately as well.
NBA history is littered with cases of guys vehemently refusing to check into the game for a myriad of reasons. Hell, the guy we mentioned above was speculating on Pistons’ target, Marvin Bagley III, refused to play a game for Sacramento NOT THREE DAYS AGO. Granted, this situation is much more advanced than anything else here in terms of breaks in this relationship.
So yes, a lot of guys said no, Diallo didn’t do what is the smallest crumb of consolation in that burnt droppings muffin.
Diallo cannot be traded until December 15th as it is a returning free agent. That gives us a full month of rumors and whispers of discontent and insolence.
Diallo signed a two-year deal for $ 10.4 million in the off-season. It’s a cheap contract with the added flexibility of a team option in the next season. It’s not a hard contract to get out of when it becomes a real problem, but I would be surprised if something more specific came out of this one-off case.
Remember the analogy I used earlier about a scroll that won’t stay bound? Well, Diallo is that scroll, but unfortunately, Dwane Casey found the best rubber band money can buy and secured it tightly.
Unfortunately the rubber band tore and Diallo jumped out publicly. Let’s hope that’s all