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Ousmane Dieng, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bruno Caboclo, and The Home Run Swing | The Prospect Overview
Ousmane Dieng is a 6'9" prospect with buttery mechanics but inefficient numbers and a skinny frame. Is he more Giannis or Bruno? Plus, more international coverage from around the globe!
Coming into this draft cycle, Ousmane Dieng was at the top of my watchlist. The 6’9” French prospect had displayed interesting flashes as a ball-handler, passer, and pull-up shooter, drawing comparisons to Paul George. He won’t turn 19 until May, and his ball-of-clay frame paired with enticing offensive instincts made him a dark horse candidate to go in the top five. To add to the excitement, he signed with the New Zealand Breakers of Australia’s NBL. The NBL’s Next Stars program has been wildly helpful for the development of big initiators such as LaMelo Ball and Josh Giddey, making it a perfect fit for Dieng on paper.
They don’t play the games on paper, though. During the first month of the season, Dieng went 8-for-37 from the floor, posting 20 total points. This is what basketball analysts refer to as “not ideal.” To this day, his stat line is still ugly: 7.8 PPG on 35.6/23.5/63.6 shooting splits, 3.1 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.2 BPG, and 1.3 TOV. So, why is Ousmane Dieng still even in the draft conversation? First, we need to examine the context surrounding the New Zealand Breakers to answer that question.
A big problem for the New Zealand Breakers is that they are the worst basketball team in the NBL this season. A bigger problem is that they might be the worst basketball team in the NBL’s history. It’s been a rough year for the squad, sitting at 5-17 as of this writing. The worst record in league history was 9-23. There are a few rational explanations for why they are this bad. Due to COVID protocols, they have not gotten to play any home games. Instead, every game has either been a road game or played at a cavernous neutral site. They’ve also been bitten by the injury bug, with key players Peyton Siva, Tom Abercrombie, and Chasson Randle all missing time. Import player Jeremiah Martin was a flop, scoring 12.3 PPG on 39.2/22.6/71 splits before getting the boot in February. It’s been a mortifying confluence of frustrating circumstances for the Breakers.
As a result, Dieng doesn’t have much help. He’s like a child who has been handed a pair of size 18 sneakers and told, “alright, I’m going to need you to grow into these today.” It’s an impossible task, and it’s clear he’s not ready to do it. Still, he’s done a better job lately. Over his last ten games, he’s scoring 12.1 PPG on 43.1/30.0/66.7 splits, 4.0 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.2 BPG, and 1.8 TOV. It’s not ideal, but it’s miles ahead of where he started, and his improvement has been beyond encouraging. Let’s take a look at what has kept Dieng a viable draft prospect after this stretch of games.
The biggest part of what drew so many evaluators to Dieng in the first place is his ability with the ball in his hands. When Dieng puts it on the floor, he is buttery, silky— every adjective you can imagine. He has a gorgeous rhythm to his game that allows him to get to his spots. Not only does he keep the on-ball defender on their toes, but he also commands the attention of those playing off the ball. Dieng always has his eyes up. Not only can he make more advanced reads than most players his age, but he can also deliver the ball to them at impossible to defend angles, thanks to his absurd length. He’s getting comfortable pulling up from deep, too, adding another level of complexity to his game. Initiators with his size often have to worry about getting stripped when they drive to the hoop, but Dieng has had this covered for a long time. His penetration arsenal is loaded with no-dribble moves such as cradles or high-ball attacks that prevent him from needing to put the ball on the deck.
Off the ball, Dieng is showing more poise and understanding. He’s great at getting out in transition, an area where his skillset is currently the most effective. In the halfcourt, he’s no slouch either. His release off the catch is quick and concise. It would be nice if it went in at a better clip, but he’s a guy who needs to focus on getting more reps rather than rebuilding his entire shot from scratch. Dieng excels at making snappy decisions, too, which is fantastic for scalability to the next level. Most of the time, he’ll quickly hit the next man or shoot it unless the play calls for him to act otherwise. He’s also figured out how to read the defense in these settings, cutting for easier baskets on a more consistent basis.
Ousmane Dieng is who the Chet Holmgren haters think Chet Holmgren is. Dieng is rail-thin, but unlike Holmgren, you constantly see it play out in negative ways on the floor. It feels gross to say, but the most significant differentiation between the two from a frame-and-physicality standpoint is toughness. Holmgren also needs to gain mass, but he’s scrappy. If you back him down, he’s not going to take it, and he’s going to try and come right back at you with everything in his being. Holmgren will put his body on you to stop you from getting a rebound, he’ll try to get into your shot if you back him under the hoop, he’s figured out how to stop players from driving through his chest, and he rarely gets the ball knocked out of his hands.
With Dieng, the opposite is usually true in all of those situations. When players drive into him, they send him flying backward. He rarely boxes out. The ball will get knocked out of his hands on rebounds and drives. Dieng appears unwilling to engage in the physicality required to play professional basketball, and it doesn’t sit well with me. I understand he’s not comfortable banging bodies in a physical league like the NBL, but the fact that is so visibly obvious is why opponents feast on him.
There is a hesitance to his defensive game that is shocking, especially given how assertive he is willing to be on offense. His anemic steal and block numbers tell the story of a player unwilling to take chances on that side of the ball. Opportunities come for help-blocks, but he doesn’t spring into position with any gusto. He isn’t disruptive in passing lanes. He has all of this length, but he hasn’t figured out how to weaponize it in any meaningful ways. I have no idea who he is going to guard out of the gate. Bigger players destroy him on the glass, and he hasn’t figured out how to use his size to prevent smaller players from getting where they want. Sure, he should be able to gain size, but he’ll also need to gain a competitive streak with it.
Before digging deeper into the film, Ousmane Dieng’s skinny frame, command of the ball, and passing ability reminded me of another international prospect who people viewed as a flier: Giannis Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee’s selection of “The Greek Freak” in the 2013 NBA Draft is unquestionably the greatest home run swing in the history of the NBA Draft. Antetokounmpo was productive prior to the NBA, but it was in The Greek A2 Basket League, Greece’s second-tier association. His 9.5 PPG on 46.4/31.3/72.0, along with 5.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.0 blocks per game, might look cleaner on paper than Dieng’s numbers; however, they weren’t anything that stood out as special in a weaker professional league. There was a lot that we as a general public didn’t know then: that Giannis would still grow, that he had an unbelievable work ethic, and that his skinniness was the result of growing up in poverty and having to share what little food he had with his brothers. Much like Chet Holmgren, though, Antetokounmpo had a fearlessness to him, and you could see it in his defensive production in international play. When he came to the NBA, he immediately posted 0.8 BPG and 0.8 SPG out of the gate as a rookie—something I cannot fathom Dieng doing.
As evaluators, when we discuss the home run swing draft pick, Giannis Antetokounmpo is often the player we point to as the hallmark of that strategy. However, there was also Bruno Caboclo. And we don’t talk about Bruno, no, no, no. Caboclo was drafted late in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft by the Toronto Raptors. Even back then, their General Manager Masai Ujiri had earned a reputation as one of the smartest executives in the league. It seemed bold, but fans were willing to be patient. Caboclo was a Brazilian prospect who played in the NBB, Brazil’s top basketball league. He averaged 13.2 MPG, 4.8 PPG on 46.4/30.4/73.3 splits, 3.2 RPG, 0.2 APG, 0.4 SPG, and 0.8 BPG. Similar to Antetokounmpo, Caboclo was long, tall, and toolsy. On the draft broadcast, he was compared to “A Brazilian Kevin Durant.” Moments later, that comment was shot down by the legendary Fran Fraschilla, who responded with the iconic remark that Caboclo was “two years away from being two years away.”
Caboclo would appear in only 25 games for the Raptors over the next four seasons before they cut bait. After a forgettable stint with the Sacramento Kings, Caboclo ended up with the Memphis Grizzlies. There, for a moment, he appeared on the right track. He started in 19 games during the 2018-2019 season, scoring efficiently, spacing the floor, and providing good defense. Unfortunately, what seemed like it may have been the start of his rise ended up being his peak; Caboclo never produced at the same level again, and he is currently out of the NBA. Caboclo being an intriguing prospect with high-level tools who didn’t pan out, despite playing for one of the league’s best developmental organizations, shows how truly precarious it is to swing for upside.
Defenders of Dieng may point to professional competition as a reason for his subpar production. Thankfully, we now have something of a track record for how young NBA hopefuls have produced in the NBL. Looking at LaMelo Ball, Josh Giddey, RJ Hampton, Bryan Bowen, and Terrence Ferguson was helpful. Dieng only out-scored Bowen and Ferguson, a low bar to clear. Still, his field goal percentage (35.6) and three-point percentage (23.5) were the worst of the bunch. Despite being the tallest player in the group, Dieng was out-rebounded by Ball, Giddey, Hampton, and Bowen. That same group also topped him in assists and steals, and all either surpassed or tied him in blocks. To be frank, his lack of production is discouraging, particularly given the size advantage he has over all of them.
SO, IS DRAFTING OUSMANE DIENG WORTH THE GAMBLE?
That’s a complicated question! I will say this, though; regardless of my situation, I would be afraid to use a first-round pick on him unless the positive intel was off the charts, I was in a rebuilding situation, and/or I had multiple first-round picks. It’s easy for pundits to play armchair quarterback with guys like Dieng; our personal careers aren’t on the line, and we get to take a victory lap if we get it right. If you’re drafting him in the first round and you’re willing to wait four years before you get meaningful production, you’re still playing with fire. If the first two years go poorly, are you willing to pick up the option for the next two? If not, are you okay wearing that egg on your face as an executive? Now, think about how good Bruno Caboclo looked for a brief moment in time before being in exile. Do you want to be in a position where you’re signing a contract extension after those four years for a player who hasn’t put it together consistently? Of course, this is all irrelevant if Dieng develops in short order, but I’m not sold on that. Maybe I should be, given his recent explosion in production, but I’m still not there.
I think every team should at least consider the possibility of taking him in the second round. Still, that would depend on who else is still available. Plus, I wouldn’t rule out Dieng as a potential “second draft” player—someone you can poach from another organization after a few years for a low cost right before he’s about to click.
The idealized version of Ousmane Dieng is phenomenal: a 6’9” initiator who can score at every level on offense, create for others, and use his length to disrupt plays on defense. It’s not out of the question that Dieng becomes that player, and you’d feel foolish if you took a safer, older prospect such as Christian Braun ahead of him in the instance that he did hit such a ceiling. Still, we are far away from that reality. Right now, he has a hard time scoring anywhere, he’s a massive negative on defense, his body isn’t ready, and most concerning of all, he appears unwilling to engage in physicality. There is plenty of time before the draft to delve into more film, and maybe I’ll change my mind between now and then. But at this moment in time, I’d rather watch on while someone else pushes their chips to the center of the table on Ousmane Dieng. That said, there are few players with his upside in this class once you get past the lottery. He will need to be a significant outlier to overcome how far away he is from being a positive contributor, and there’s a reason significant outliers are called significant outliers.
The Draft Sick Deep Cut Prospect of the Week is…Zaccharie Risacher! Given the “all international” theme for this week, I felt a bit stranded. It’s easy to find under-the-radar college prospects, but it’s trickier on the international front because there is so much more to parse. So, what did I do? I took a path that involved sifting through no data whatsoever. Instead, I went straight to the source— the greatest international basketball sicko of them all, Rafael Barlowe. I asked for his recommendation, and he pointed me in the direction of Zaccharie Risacher.
The 6’8” Risacher is only 16 years old as of this writing and will turn 17 in the coming week. Still, he got his first taste of EuroLeague action this year for ASVEL. For the unfamiliar, the EuroLeague is the premier organization in European basketball and is comprised of the best teams from various countries. It’s a big deal for someone so young to get minutes on the floor in EuroLeague play. What stood out to me first was his general comfort level on the floor; he looked like he’d been there before. He has tremendous poise and confidence, and he moves well. Risacher kept the ball moving and demonstrated great shot prep, knocking down a catch-and-shoot three-pointer. He seemed the most jittery on defense, but he still wasn’t bad—just antsy and physically weaker than the grown men he competed against in those games.
Watching him against his own age group in the Adidas Next Generation Tournament gave a better idea of where he is relative to his peers. Risacher continued to show assertiveness, seeing the floor and making clever passes that are uncommon for a player his size at such a young age. His jumper is quick and clean. Risacher’s footwork on both ends is solid, and he profiles as a good athlete thanks to his leaping ability. His handle will be a key area for development. Right now, he doesn’t have the ball on a string, and he lets the ball get too far away from his body in traffic. Defensively, he uses his long arms exactly how you would hope, blocking shots and getting into passing lanes. When he’s calmer and playing against his own age group, his feet are more stable, and he appears more balanced while guarding on the ball.
Like many young players, Risacher’s game could take any number of paths. His strength and ball-handling appear to be the biggest swing areas for his ceiling, but his baseline game is rock solid. Being 6’8” with long arms, good passing, and clean shot mechanics is a pretty ideal starting point for a player, and his decision-making has opened up some big doors for him already. I’m excited to see what the future has in store for Zaccharie Risacher.
-I spent a great deal of time focusing on Ousmane Dieng, but I want to give some love to his fellow Next Stars program member and teammate, Hugo Besson. Besson has also struggled from an efficiency standpoint, but he has been more productive than Dieng. The 6’3” combo guard leaves a lot to be desired on the defensive end, but his offense is intriguing. He bombs threes, taking six a game despite receiving a lot of attention, and his 2.2 APG understates his ability as a passer. Besson has grown tremendously as a playmaker for others, playing more within himself while still getting crafty with how he looks off his passes to confuse the defense. I think he has the upside to lead a second unit in the NBA if things pan out for him.
-Ismael Kamagate has continued to impress me. He’s looked physically stronger as the season has progressed, and his pick-and-roll defense is much more fundamentally sound at this stage. Kamagate rarely loses his man now, but he’s still a bit more upright than I would like when he’s switched onto guards. He might have the quickest feet when rolling to the basket or slipping screens of any big in this class, and he always goes up strong to finish. I’d feel comfortable taking him in the first round; he seems ready enough to survive on the NBA floor, and he’s a late bloomer with plenty of potential left to untap.
-I’m still struggling to see it with Matteo Spagnolo. Like Besson, he’s a combo guard, but he’s a bit taller. Unfortunately, he has similar issues on the defensive end. Fellow prospect Giordano Bortolani gave him fits when Spagnolo had to guard him on the ball. He’s not a natural lateral mover, and he’s not great going north-south either. Spagnolo can shoot the lights out off the catch and off the bounce, but his inability to generate rim pressure, consistently place passes accurately, and defend has me cooler on him.
-There may not be a “less sexy” international prospect than Khalifa Diop, but he can play. The 6’11” big man for Gran Canaria has all the makings of a backup big man who should stick around for several years. He’s playing against great competition in Spain’s ACB and the EuroCup, and he’s producing well. Diop has outstanding footwork on defense, and his size and mobility make him a nightmare for offenses when he guards the pick-and-roll. The most encouraging development for him has come as a passer, as he’s now hitting open teammates with flare when they’re open. Between his mobility, size, defensive prowess, and burgeoning offensive game, I can see him sticking in the NBA.
-Gabriele Procida has continued to deliver. His 42.9% from three demonstrates his shooting ability, and he’s got athleticism to spare as you can see from the dunk above. Procida’s knack for putbacks is uncanny. When a rebound is up for grabs, Procida is both quick to the rim and slithery enough to cut through the other bodies on the floor; it’s a real skill for him. Defensively, he’s got work to do, but he has the tools to do it. He’ll lose his man entirely when he leaves to help and miss rotations. He’s a fearless shooter in the face of a closeout, but if he has to put it on the floor to get a better look, his handle can betray him. There’s definitely a rawness that permeates his game, but his confidence, shooting ability, burst, and savvy give me a great deal of belief in him. I wouldn’t be shocked if a team bets on him in the first round, but I love his value as a second-round pick, which is where he’s currently projected by most analysts.