SCHOOL/ TEAM: Gran Canaria (Spain)
Ideal size, frame and length for an NBA center
Good athlete with solid footwork and low post skills
Soft touch around the rim
Shows polish and patience on the block
Underrated passing instincts and feel for the game
Threw a behind the back pass in transition
Effective finisher around rim
Plays hard, fights to establish low post position
Runs the floor in transition
Upside as a shooter inside 15 feet
Draws a lot of fouls
Averaged 14, 9 and 2 assists on 50% FG at FIBA U19s
Some straight line ball handling skills in space
AREAS TO IMPROVE | CONCERNS
Tendency to load up on jumps around rim
Brings ball down low offensive rebound putbacks
Right hand dominant; no left hand
Does not have strong hands; bobbles passes
Weak hands impact his finishing as a cutter
Still a little raw and developing
Decision making out as the roll man
Who is this 2002-born Senegalese big man?
His name hasn't popped up on many draft related articles yet, however, soon the world will know more about the 20-year old giant with an NBA dream..
His path to professional basketball
Growing up in Senegal, Diop moved to Spain when he was 14 year old. After starting playing basketball at a small local club, several scouts discovered his talents and led him the Gran Canaria talent factory.
After an appearance at the Adidas Next Generation Tournament, his doors to exposure via international scouts was opened. His draft considerations grew even faster when he attended the Basketball Without Borders tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina at the age of 17.
The easiest way to describe Khalifa Diop would be a strong defensive minded big man. At 6’11” he’s more than capable of being a two-way NBA starter level player in the future. More on that later on in the article.
His 230 pounds come into play in his rebounding. With his strong frame he has the advantage in box-outs in most of the occasions, despite his young age. The 16.4 rebounding rate in a span of 36 games this season is a clear indicator for his value added in rebounding.
Another indicator that makes him an NBA prospect is his switchability. With some good lateral quickness and a solid motor he’s able to guard players on the perimeter. Especially in pick-and-roll positions, which are run a lot in Europe, his value on defense is on the table. Whether he drops the coverage or goes over screens, he’s able to keep most opponents he’ll face in front of him.
Despite his slow first step, he accelerates quite well, making it more likely he’ll be able to even meet smaller and quicker players at the rim, especially when the ball handler decides to not use the roll man and finishes the play themselves.
The part which needs development is limiting personal fouls. With 2.7 fouls in 14.6 minutes per game that’s an indicator of risk in his profile. However, after seeing Diop on the floor, I would grade it more to him being inexperienced, rather than not being able to get stops without fouling.
Being a good pick-and-roll defender and rebounder checks important boxes in what NBA scouts are looking for. The extras Diop offers are for the biggest part him being a great rim protector.
He doesn’t bite on pump fakes often and has a surprisingly quick second jump. In European basketball you’ll see a lot more old school back-to-the-basket possessions from big men. He’s doing a good job keeping opposing centers outside the painted area. Even if he gives up ground, his contests at the rim are timely, tough and more importantly strong. My personal evaluation is that he’ll be more than able to handle the strength of the average NBA big, especially around the rim.
In today’s NBA, being a lob threat seems like the first box that scouts check when evaluating the offense from centers. In Diop’s case, he’s definitely more than a lob threat. He has a great vertical jump. Compared with good timing, that’s very valuable. With an - unofficial - 7’2” wingspan it’s more than likely he’ll be able to catch any lob pass that comes his way.
With skill being slowly valued more and more, his back-to-the-basket game definitely adds value to his profile. His biggest unique selling point is being able to nail a mid-range jumper.
The most common two plays that he’ll run is either forcing his way into the paint and finishing with an hook shot, or going for a turnaround jumper as an alternative when failing to win ground in post-ups. The point to detail is that he has a quite high release, reducing the opponent block rate.
The shooting stroke looks natural and is promising when evaluating his potential as a floor stretcher in expanding his range to three-point shooters.
In terms of him separating himself from most NBA prospects is his ability to set screens. He’s a natural screen setter. One of the main reasons Gran Canaria is playing him around 15 minutes per game in both the Eurocup and Spanish ACB.
Another advantage is - like mentioned earlier - he’s able to score on mid-range jump shots. This makes his versatility on pick-and-roll offenses quite special. As a traditional big man, he still prefers operating as a roll man and getting his action at the rim. He doesn’t have problems finishing through contact neither.
When the situation occurs, for example after a pick-and-pop, he’ll be the open man attempting a jump shot. Especially since we see a trend of NBA big men dropping coverage if the opposing big man isn’t a good three-point shooter, that’s a valuable position for Diop to be in.
However, he does not convince me in being entirely confident in his own face-up game. His overall footwork is on a decent to good level. Upon evaluating this aspect of his offense, him being quite inexperienced on face up drives to the rim is clearly visible.
Like with many things in life, every advantage has its disadvantage. One of the risks in Diop’s profile is him being a bad free-throw shooter. He’s averaging a tad under 2 free throw attempts per game and converting them at only 54.9%.
This limits his potential for NBA teams as he’s not a suited player to close games with. This has been the part that surprises me a lot, considering how the shooting form looks on his mid-range jumper and it's not translating at the line. This is the challenge for NBA teams to try and fix.
Another indicator that makes his presence on a 5-man lineup fruitful is his offensive rebounding. He’s averaging an impressive 13.3 percent offensive rebounding rate. His factor of success on this end is his ability to position himself well for offensive box-outs.
With shooting having an historic high importance in the NBA, this definitely gives him a slight edge versus most NBA centers, because his potential offensive rebounds per game have increased significantly compared to the game ten-twenty years ago. Especially considering all of the other - above mentioned - skills he already possesses.
NBA Draft projection
I project Diop to be an NBA-ready defensive big man on day one. His strength and overall rim protecting qualities set the base for a rotational player on most teams in need of a back-up big man. This also due to him being a natural screen setter and the shooting already being present. Moreover, we rarely see a center who’s both of an excellent pick-and-roll defender and shooter. With Diop that’s the upside NBA teams shouldn’t hesitate betting on.
I am confident he will test late first round waters. However, I am leaning towards him being picked in the early second round, due to teams being confronted with a buy-out situation. This makes it more attractive to take a guy in round two, to potentially add the buy-out fee in a player’s contract; for first round picks this usually means player covering every dollar above the $750,000 maximum amount NBA teams are allowed to pay as a buy-out fee.
Overall my evaluation is that Khalifa Diop is a late first round level talent and should be looking ahead to a successful career in the NBA.