A 43rd pick on a star-stacked, veteran-filled, championship-contending team doesn’t usually bode well for playing time. Well, unless you are an uber-athletic rookie that offers what no other players can.
And 20-year-old Moussa Diabaté is him.
His greatest asset is most clearly his athleticism. In a preseason game against the Denver Nuggets, the Frenchman made quite the introduction for himself, emphatically posterizing Jack White in transition. Unanimously dubbed the ‘dunk of the preseason,’ his valiant jam showed what he’s capable of.
But he’s got more to his game than just highlight reel dunks.
Gifted with a 6’11” and 210-pound physique, Diabaté is a juggernaut on both ends of the floor — especially near the rim. As I always like to call him, he’s a bigger, stronger and slightly better-looking Patrick Beverley. He remains aggressive in the paint to muscle his way into a much-needed offensive board and, at times, a quick putback field goal. He finished with 11 rebounds (five offensive and six defensive) in a preseason game against the Portland Blazers.
On the offensive end, Diabaté often leaks out to the top of the key to set picks for the team’s primary ball handler. Fluidly, he rolls towards the basket; by this time, he usually gets the ball and finishes against smaller defenders. The former Wolverine proved capable of finishing through contact as he posted multiple and-one’s across his first four games. In his best game, he logged 14 points, draining all five of his five field goal attempts.
Most impressive, in my opinion, is his composure around the rim. Unlike most other athletic bigs his age, Diabaté plays with a level of composure. Even when the game speeds up, he can slow it down and make the right plays.
Rather than relying on his physicality to overpower defenders and, without much control, throwing up a shot with the faint hope of it going in, Diabaté comes to a full stop near the rim. Then, he resorts to his pump fake to get defenders up in the air and finishes without much trouble afterward. Veteran-like patience from a rookie.
He brings the same strengths on the defensive end too.
He uses his freakish athleticism and defensive mobility to stay in the way of attacking opponents and, in the case that he gets beat, quickly recovers to contest and quite often block their shot. Patient on defense, Diabaté doesn’t really bite on pump fakes or well-timed hesis. it’s hard to see him off his feet and in the air other than the times he’s blocking and smashing balls across the court.
We all knew Diabaté’s potential was what set him apart from the rest of the drafting class, but we didn’t know he would advance toward it this fast.
As it is now, the Frenchman could be the realistic solution to the Clippers’ only concern: the void at the backup center spot. Although Tyronn Lue has hinted at the team resorting to small ball to make up for their lack of a backup center, Diabaté could be the team’s backup center if and when needed.
His size, knack for catching rebounds and pervasive energy on the floor could end up earning him minutes as the season progresses. To many’s surprise, Diabaté — not Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, or any of the team’s big names — could develop into the team’s missing piece to their championship puzzle.
Only time will tell.