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Sleeper Deep Dives: Moussa Diabate
The Michigan Wolverines have toppled Colorado State and Tennessee on their way to a Sweet Sixteen berth as an 11th seed, but they would not be there without the all-around game of Moussa Diabate.
Moussa Diabate began this season in a very interesting position. The Parisian finished his high school career as the 11th-ranked prospect in the country in 2021 after his senior year at IMG Academy, per RSCI. However, he wasn’t even the headline prospect of his own recruiting class; fellow newcomer Caleb Houstan was the sixth-ranked prospect in their class.
This season has been an up-and-down affair for both the highly-touted recruits and the Michigan team as a whole. However, Diabate and the Michigan squad have gotten hot at exactly the right time. The 11th-seeded Wolverines knocked off Colorado State and Tennessee on their way to the Sweet Sixteen, and Diabate was vital to Michigan’s victory over the Volunteers.
Moussa Diabate will probably not be drafted in the first round of the 2022 NBA Draft; he may not even end up being drafted in the second round, as the consensus rankings had him outside of the Top 55 in yesterday’s $DRFT update.
Given that he is likely to be a second-round pick if he does get drafted, there are plenty of reasons to believe that Diabate should return to school. With his size at 6’11” and his fluid athleticism, he could work his way into the first round of next year’s draft, and maybe even into the lottery, with a more impressive sophomore season in a presumably expanded role.
If Diabate does decide to declare for the 2022 draft, NBA teams would do well to take a flyer on a player who has the offensive and defensive potential to be a second-round steal—or even a late first-round steal if the right team is tantalized enough by his improved play over the course of the season to make him an offer (a first-round promise) that he can’t refuse. He might not get the same shine as Caleb Houstan, but Moussa Diabate has a complementary skill set that tends to fly under the radar and the potential to be so much more than just a role player. So…let’s dive deep!
Offense: Transition Menace
Moussa Diabate already has a solid complementary skill set on offense that should translate to the next level; however, he could be terrifying on that end if he could grow his game in a few areas.
The place to start with Diabate is what he does best: running in transition. Diabate is an absolute menace on the break; he gets up the floor quicker than most big men, and he explodes to the rim whenever he gets an opening. He will gladly capitalize on any opportunity to run out in transition and throw down over his opponents:
This season, Diabate is averaging 1.364 points per possession on transition plays, which ranks in the 92nd percentile, per Synergy Sports. He is a great athlete for his size in terms of fluidity and mobility, even by NBA standards. Diabate also ranks in the 94th percentile as a pick-and-roll big man and in the 80th percentile as a cutter; clearly, he is well-equipped to pounce on scoring opportunities as an off-ball player.
While Diabate won’t need to do much more than cut and run to score in the NBA, he also has a burgeoning one-on-one game that could be effective at the next level. He has used up 31.3% of his possessions this season on post-ups (by far his most frequent play-type), and he has been decently efficient on those plays, ranking in the 56th percentile. He uses his fluidity well in the post, especially on his spin moves and with his right-handed jump hook. Once he gets into position in the post, that hook shot is hard to defend:
In addition to his post prowess, Diabate has been even better on isolation plays outside of the post, ranking in the 89th percentile. His one-on-one success will be a key factor in determining his NBA upside; he can punish smaller players in the post or use his speed to blow past big men on drives to the rim. His complementary skills on offense will translate to the NBA, but his upside as an isolation scorer makes him even more dangerous.
The biggest drawback for Diabate, unfortunately, is his jump shot. He has an awkward sling-shot motion on both his jumpers and his free throws, and he may need a lot of work in terms of rebuilding that shooting motion:
Diabate is shooting just 3-of-14 on the season from long-range, for an abysmal 21.4% mark from deep. While the limited sample size on his shooting from three-point range should be taken into account, his numbers from the free-throw line aren’t exactly pretty either and provide supporting evidence that his touch outside of the paint is a concern; Diabate is shooting just 62.2% from the line this season. Although he does help out his teammates with solid screens when he gets set, Diabate isn’t great at setting up his teammates with his passing. Diabate is averaging 0.8 assists per game against 1.5 turnovers per game so far this season, and he could stand to get better at keeping the ball moving and making good decisions with the ball in his hands.
Diabate doesn’t necessarily need to improve his jump shot or his playmaking ability to be effective on the offensive end in the NBA; he will provide value as a complementary player with his cutting, his pick-and-roll play, and his running in transition. Still, a revamped jump shot, when coupled with his growing one-on-one game, could boost his ceiling from that of a complementary player to that of a much more dangerous kind of offensive force.
Defense: Potential Play Destroyer
Moussa Diabate already has the tools to be a solid complementary player on offense and the potential to be much more than that; however, his potential on the defensive end is even more tantalizing. If an NBA team does decide to take a flyer on Diabate, they will probably do so with the hopes of Diabate reaching his game-wrecking defensive ceiling.
The core of Diabate’s defensive potential is his ability to blow up plays as a switch defender. His remarkable lateral ability for his size allows him to cover a lot of distance on any given play; he is one of the few big men who can actually switch out onto perimeter players without much difficulty and keep those ball-handlers in front of him. When he is at his best, he can cover a ton of ground on a defensive possession and smother the opposing offense:
While the good moments for Diabate look extremely promising on the defensive end, the bad moments are pretty disappointing. Diabate, like many young big men, tends to get lost defensively. He can slip into ball-watching mode when he is defending off the ball, which leads to blown coverages more often than it should:
Diabate, again like many young big men, will almost certainly struggle defensively in his first couple of years in the NBA. He is still too skinny to bang in the post, and he shies away from contact near the rim on defense far more often than he does on the offensive end. Even if he reaches his defensive peak, Diabate will probably not be someone who can be relied upon to be a primary rim protector; he will need to play most of his minutes with a center who can block shots and defend the rim. If he does reach that defensive peak, however, he will wreak absolute havoc on opposing teams and blow up their schemes as a player who can switch onto almost any opponent regardless of position:
Moussa Diabate might need more development on the defensive end before he can be a serious positive contributor, but his weaknesses on that end are almost entirely issues of attentiveness and understanding of his opponent’s schemes. In other words, his biggest weaknesses are the exact weaknesses that virtually every big man prospect faces when they enter the NBA. Diabate’s physical strengths, however, are exceedingly rare—even at the NBA level. If he ends up in the right system and gets the defensive experience that he needs, Moussa Diabate could be one of the greatest defensive terrors in the NBA sooner rather than later.
Moussa Diabate and the Michigan Wolverines faced an uphill battle to reach the Sweet Sixteen, and their path to the National Championship game will be even more difficult. The second-seeded Villanova Wildcats await them in the next round, and a win there sets up a brutal potential Elite Eight battle against either top-seeded Arizona or a 30-win University of Houston squad.
Still, Michigan was a massive underdog against Tennessee, and Diabate and his teammates managed to grind out a victory in that game. Even if Diabate and Michigan’s March Madness journey is nearing its close, both he and his squad had played admirably under the bright lights of the tournament.
Moussa Diabate will probably return to Michigan for his sophomore season. He has every reason to expect that he will not be drafted in the first round this year, and he has every reason to expect that his stock will climb next season after a solid tournament run this year and a presumably expanded role in Year Two in Ann Arbor. If Diabate does declare, however, his combination of lethality in transition and sky-high defensive potential is more than enough for him to develop into one of the steals of the 2022 NBA Draft.