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Ousmane Dieng's Perimeter Defense | The Friday Screener
Ousmane Dieng has jaw dropping upside, and his perimeter defense is a major reason why.
Ousmane Dieng headlined the 2022 NBA Draft’s international class for most evaluators entering this last season. At 6’10” and 216 pounds, Dieng had the size and fluidity of the coveted wing/forward archetype that every team searches for in the draft. Unfortunately, Dieng’s season got off to a horrendous start as he struggled with physicality, couldn’t find his shot, looked lost on defense, and seemed overwhelmed by the speed of the game. As disastrous as his first half of the season was, his second half was equally impressive. His shot started falling, his playmaking took a significant leap, and, most surprisingly, his perimeter defense rapidly evolved.
With his size, length, and athleticism, Dieng profiles as an ideal defender who can cover numerous positions. He still needs to add significant strength and be more consistent with rotations, but the improvements that Dieng showed with his on-ball defense should get teams excited.
Paint Dieng’s perimeter defense in an exclusively positive light would be misleading and doing a disservice to the improvements he made. To properly appreciate how important Dieng’s improvements are and how good of a defender he could be, dissecting his blemishes is necessary. The most significant issues with Dieng’s perimeter defense stem from his lack of physicality, tendency to get caught in a square stance, and being too reactionary on fakes.
Here, Dieng picks up the ball-handler in transition, but his square stance allows the ball-handler to attack in any direction he wants. As the ball-handler crosses over to the middle of the floor, Dieng implements extremely sloppy footwork. Instead of dropping with his left foot, which would allow him to keep his balance and slide with the ball-handler, Dieng’s first reaction is to step with his right foot, which causes him to turn his hips and jeopardize his balance. To exacerbate the situation, Dieng lazily reaches for the ball with his right hand as he’s turning to chase, further compromising his balance. On contact, Dieng’s lack of balance sends him flying towards the baseline while the ball-handler pulls up for a wide-open jumper.
Here, we see Dieng utilize far superior footwork for most of the possession. Initially, Dieng does an excellent job of sliding his feet to cut off the drive. As he navigates over the brush screen, Dieng does a much better job of flipping his hips and moving his feet in tandem with each other. Unfortunately, as Dieng works to cut off the drive, he flips his hips to turn and chase, leaving him susceptible to a step-back jumper.
Besides the late hip flip, Dieng is also hurt by his avoidance of physical defense. Instead of cutting off the drive, Dieng was more concerned with recovering to the rim. This tendency to evade contact makes him more prone to biting on fakes and getting happy feet.
This time, Dieng and his teammate do a good job of communicating when and when not to switch in the pick-and-roll. As Dieng goes to recover, though, he bites on a minimal head fake that creates a driving lane. For a lot of defenders, this would be the end of the story. However, to Dieng’s credit, he works to recover, uses his length, and blocks the shot from behind.
As we can see, Dieng’s defensive possessions are rarely all bad. There are sprinklings of good with an occasional wrong ingredient that jeopardizes the meal but isn’t immune from being saved by some last-minute seasoning.
While the inconsistencies can be frustrating, the end product can be really encouraging when he puts it all together. Here, Dieng picks up the ball-handler with a barely staggered stance. The ball-handler attacks Dieng’s high foot, and Dieng does the exact opposite of what we saw earlier. Dieng perfectly pivots his hips, forces the drive wide by inviting contact, stays with the ball-handler, and uses his length to affect the shot at the rim.
Sure, a more pronounced defensive stance at the beginning would’ve been nice, but that possession is everything you can hope for from a 6’10” perimeter defender. As the season progressed, Dieng exhibited more and more defensive possessions that mirrored that one.
Here, Dieng is a step slow to react as his man receives the pass, but as he recovers, he does a great job of getting in the ball-handler’s space and not fully turning his hips. As the ball-handler proceeds to change directions on a whim, Dieng continues to flip his hips to stay with him. Dieng does an excellent job of taking away the layup.
I know—the ball-handler made the shot. I don’t really care, though. What concerns me is everything that led up to the shot, and it was almost perfect by Dieng. The ball-handler happened to make a tough mid-range fadeaway over a solid contest by Dieng, and that is a shot that defenses will live with most of the time. The only concern, and it is a nitpick that is hopefully short-lived, is how easily the ball-handler was able to create space with the push-off. Thankfully, this wasn’t one of the examples of Dieng being allergic to contact. Instead, it was simply how he’s affected by his current lack of strength. As his body matures and gets stronger, this shouldn’t be an issue. Until then…
As we just saw, Dieng’s man makes another tough mid-range fadeaway, but his defense is flawless. As the ball-handler attacks middle, Dieng again perfectly synchronizes his hips and his feet to cut off the drive and not allow penetration to the rim. As the ball-handler spins back, Dieng perfectly mirrors him and strongly contests the tough shot.
The importance of Dieng’s improvement at cutting off drives cannot be overstated. It is going to be a crucial tool for him as it makes him a more versatile defender, as we can see here. As his man attacks, Dieng perfectly slides his feet and gets into the ball-handler’s space. His footwork allows him to react to imminent dribble move, and by taking away the ball-handler’s space, Dieng limits the counter moves available to the ball-handler.
The fundamental and cognitive improvements that Dieng made throughout the season are what make him such a promising and switchable perimeter defender. Here, Dieng is defending a player who is about seven inches shorter. Theoretically, not a great matchup for a 6’10” forward. However, Dieng’s mobility allows him to be a viable point-of-attack defender. As the screen comes, Dieng does an excellent job of slithering over it. By avoiding the screen, Dieng surprises the unsuspecting ball-handler snaking back middle, and he steals the ball.
While Dieng has proven he has the capacity to defend at the point of attack and in pick-and-rolls, his size will likely result in him guarding forwards, especially at the start of his career. While this will expose his inconsistent off-ball defense a bit more, it will also improve the defense versatility of the lineup as he can execute most switches.
Here, Dieng is matched up on an opposing forward as the ball-handler initiates horns. Dieng immediately switches, bumps the ball-handler off his drive, and contests a desperation floater.
Ousmane Dieng’s perimeter defense at the start of the season was a glaring weakness that quickly evolved into a brilliant strength. His on-ball footwork improved, and he started accepting and even initiating contact to obstruct drives. Dieng will likely take some time to adjust to the speed and physicality of the NBA, but he has the size, tools, and athleticism to be a menace on defense. If Dieng can carry over the defensive improvements he made in the second half of the season, he could be one of the most versatile forwards in the 2022 NBA Draft.