The big-man comes with intriguing mobility.
Our 2022 NBA Draft scouting report series continues with a look at Khalifa Diop, a 20-year-old international product.
The NBA Draft is a wonderful melting pot of talent, potential and differing skill-sets across different positions from all across the US, Canada and the rest of the world.
One of the things I always fascinating is just how differently you have to look at the game when you’re gauging a guard versus a big-man; you appreciate the things that aren’t as flashy as creating off of the dribble or step-back three-pointers. Screens, pick-and-roll defense, help defense…these are just some aspects that amplified more when looking at a big-man prospect.
Which brings us onto today’s prospect.
20-year-old Senegalese big-man Khalifa Diop stands at 7’ with a 7’2 wingspan (measurements per ESPN) and spent the last season in Spain with Gran Canaria, averaging 6.5 points per game on 62% shooting from the field on 4.5 field goal attempts, 56% from the free throw line on 2.3 free throw attempts, four rebounds, 1.6 offensive rebounds, 0.7 blocks, 0.4 steals, 1.3 turnovers and 2.8 fouls in an average of 16 minutes a game across 54 games played (including 20 games in the EuroCup where he was named as the Rising Star), per RealGM.
Those stats won’t ‘wow’ you but there’s a lot more than meets the eye than those stats would suggest — and that’s what we’ll be looking at today, so let’s hop into the film (Diop wears the number 18).
Despite averaging 6.5 points on 4.5 attempts per game, we have plenty to look at with Diop’s offense, and you’ll get a sense of his strong movement and athleticism as we dive into things here.
Let’s start with the most prominent aspect of Diop’s offense which, as you might imagine, is pick-and-roll offense.
In overtime against Valencia, Diop sets a good screen and rolls to the rim where he flashes his athleticism with a big dunk:
Diop again displays his explosiveness on this possession as he sets the screen up-top before diving to the rim where he finishes with aplomb:
This time Diop slips the screen, receives the pass over the top and finishes with the dunk:
On the hand-off, Diop sets the screen, rolls, receives the ball early this time and bursts into the paint with his stride to finish at the rim with the dunk:
A bit more finesse on this possession as Diop adjusts on the catch and finishes as he falls to the floor:
Here, Diop sets the screen and is the beneficiary of a great find underneath the basket and does well to finish at the rim with some defensive pressure on his back:
And, on a few occasions, Diop flashed some potential of a jumpshot, stepping into a pick-and-pop jumper here:
Moving a little more away from exclusively finishes directly from pick-and-roll, Diop begins this possession with a screen before rolling into the paint. The ball is swung on the perimeter and once his teammate spots Diop in deep position the ball is flung inside, where Diop turns around and hits the jump-hook:
A similar play takes place here, where Diop begins with setting a screen before rolling into the paint. Again, he’s eventually found inside, backs down in the post before hitting the jump-hook:
Let’s quickly look at some other flashes from Diop offensively that aren’t in pick-and-roll.
Not a screen, per se, but, here, Diop hands the ball off before diving hard to the rim, receiving the ball and finishing with authority:
A bit fortuitous on this play but once Diop receives the ball he still has to finish and he stick the push shot:
Here’s an instance of Diop actually driving with the ball himself from the three-point line and getting to the rim, flashing some real potential to exploit his normally heavier-footed matchup:
At the end of a quarter, Diop’s teammate attempts a three-pointer and while that draws air, Diop catches and finishes at the rim in the same motion in a remarkable play:
In transition, Diop runs the floor and gets up for the athletic alley-oop finish, plus the foul:
Diop averaged 2.3 free throw attempts per game and you can imagine his combination of athleticism, strength and speed help him put himself in position to draw contact and fouls.
In the pick-and-roll, Diop sets the screen and is delivered a perfect pass which he can take in his stride to the rim where he draws the foul and free throws:
In the pick-and-roll again, Diop is able to take two players out of the equation with contact before rolling to the rim, receiving the ball and drawing the foul and free throws from behind:
On the slip this time, Diop rolls to the rim and goes up to finish strong and is fouled from behind to prevent the easy two:
Here, Diop repositions himself nicely on this possession before receiving the ball and immediately ducking toward the rim where he is fouled for more free throws:
Again, a strong take to the rim from Diop and he attacks the rim with intent and draws the foul and free throws as his reward:
The 56% free throw percentage is a problem for Diop however. He creates some great opportunities for himself by getting to the free throw line but can undo some of it by failing to take advantage at the line and will need to improve in this regard. Arguably it’s my biggest concern with Diop’s offense right now because he’s very efficient elsewhere in what he attempts right now, with the exception being probably his developing jumpshot in those mid pick-and-pop scenarios.
You’ve probably gotten a sense so far watching Diop in pick-and-roll but he is a good screen setter, and this obviously opens up opportunities for his teammates, so I’m going to cheat and put Diop’s screen-setting as a means of playmaking for his teammates.
On this play, Diop screens and re-screens to create separation for the ball-handler, who attempts the runner inside as he feels the defender at the hip:
Again, Diop creates separation for the ball-handler while putting pressure on the rim which causes hesitation to the defender at the rim, opening an opportunity for the made floater:
This next play is one I enjoyed because it has Diop set a screen and the roll inside takes the defender away while the ball handler occupies two defenders after the screen. The player on the baseline makes a cut to the free throw line where he is found for the jumper:
Just a few examples there of Diop’s screen-setting but we’ve seen a lot of it already.
Moving on to Diop’s passing, he averaged 0.65 assists but showed some flashes of potential.
On the pick-and-roll, Diop’s drive is halted in the paint but loops a sweet entry pass to his fellow big deep inside the paint for the assist at the rim:
On the out of bounds play, Diop receives the ball on the perimeter, drives by his man and finds his teammate in the dunker spot, with neither he nor Diop on the offensive rebound able to finish the play:
Generally speaking I would say Diop uses his knack to crash the offensive glass to create second chance for others more so than himself, such as on this possession where he grabs the offensive rebound and find his driving teammate for the foul and free throws:
There’s not a lot else to say about Diop’s passing/playmaking abilities: there’s some potential at the position but it’s just not a prevalent feature of his game right now to do it consistently.
You’ve gotten a sense of Diop’s mobility at this stage and you can imagine how useful this is on the defensive end.
Gran Canaria had Diop hedge a lot, given his mobility and his ability to cover ground, so we’ll start looking at Diop in this regard.
On the screen, Diop hedges and when the pass is quickly made he gets back to his man so the mismatch doesn’t take place:
(Not that there was a great sense of urgency to exploit said mismatch…)
Again, Diop hedges to prevent the offensive player turning the corner and quickly gets back to his man:
Another good hedge from Diop here to prevent the corner being turned and when the pass is flung inside a teammate knocks the intended ball inside away for the steal (though even if the player had caught it Diop would have recovered back):
Rinse and repeat, as Diop steps out on the screen before retreating back inside to get to his man:
This mobility comes in handy as a one-on-one defender and he’s more than comfortable to switch onto guards and is able to hold his own.
On the switch here, Diop moves well and uses his length to effectively contest the shot as the clock winds down:
This defensive possession late in the game against Valencia in the EuroCup was a great stance from Diop at an important time in the game, discouraging the drive and effectively contesting the three-point attempt:
On this play Diop shows multiple efforts and switches on multiple occasions to prevent the drive and force the pass:
Diop averaged 0.7 blocks per game and there is strong potential for Diop to keep improving in this regard thanks to his athleticism, his ability to cover ground quickly and length.
Here, Diop initially covers the switch on the drive before returning to his own man to block the shot in the paint:
Again on a switch, Diop uses his length to produce a great block on the fadeaway jumper:
There are possessions where Diop does well to stay in the defensive possession but can’t finish it.
Inside, Diop moves his feet well but allows his man to get another step on him to get a decent attempt on the hook:
On a switch, Diop moves well to prevent the first attack toward the rim but can’t complete the play as he’s called for the bump on a drive where Diop shouldn’t allow in a tight space he did well to force in the first place:
There’s a lot to like about Diop defensively but there are some consistency issues as well as areas to grow. These aren’t general areas in particular just all-around little moments Diop needs to improve.
Plays like this where a mistiming of his challenge and how he applies his length, leading to a basket at the rim:
As the help defense, Diop gets in front of the rim and prevents the path to the rim but bites too soon on the challenge is called for the foul:
The hedges on pick-and-rolls don’t always go to plan but this doesn’t always have to do with Diop himself:
After the hedge on this play, Diop undoes his good work by biting too soon on another fake but is fortunate the shot is missed:
There are other mental lapses like this one where Diop allows his man to get in behind him and he commits a poor foul on the drive, leading a dunk and an ‘and-1’ play:
These are worth noting but Diop’s bad defensive moments are certainly not as prevalent as his good defensive moments.
There’s a lot to like when it comes to Khalifa Diop as a prospect.
People will point to a lack of a three-point/jumper game as a problem but maybe I’m alone in thinking I don’t think it’s important at this phase of his career. What I think is essential to continue to develop is his jumpshot in his pick-and-pop scenarios, which I think is open to him with how he puts pressure on the rim with his speed, length and athleticism and his hard rolls to the rim. Sometimes those rolls clog up the paint somewhat but I think it’s a really positive aspect of his game overall.
I think Diop has a solid touch near the rim. I think he has good hands, his hooks are solid although his overall finesse near the rim can be a bit hit-and-miss — he’s definitely at his best offensively in the pick-and-roll.
His offensive rebounding is valuable but I’d like to see Diop be more authoritative with his second chances and not be afraid to go for an attempt himself at times. Perhaps his struggles at the free throw line discourage him from doing this at times, an area that he certainly needs to improve.
Diop is a good screener which not only helps his own pick-and-roll offense but his teammates too, which I think is an underrated aspect when so many screens (certainly in Atlanta) are slipped instead of set at times.
Defensively there’s a lot of scope with Diop.
He can switch 1 through 5 in Europe already and is comfortable to do so. If he is beaten by a turn of pace, he can recover quickly and he has the length to challenge. His mobility gives his team the option to hedge which is a huge benefit and one of the reasons he is effective defensively — he can cover a lot of ground quickly while preventing guards from turning the corner and forcing a pass, and this is the same on switches.
As a shot blocker and rim protector I’d like to see more from Diop. There’s no reason he can’t average one or more blocks per game (and I think he would if he averaged more minutes) but needs to clean up the timing errors he is prone too at times and discipline; cutting down on those fouls.
In terms of NBA Draft stock, I think Diop would make a good high energy big. I wouldn’t be too sure how well he could switch onto guards in the NBA but I think his mobility would be handy for an NBA team to have in a pinch. There’s always a role in this league for bigs who bring energy and can defend, jumpshot or not.
Unlike some of the other international prospects in this class, I think you could bring Diop over, perhaps sign him to a two-way deal and see how he gets on in the G League. Unlike other international prospects, I think he is ready enough to come over now and play in the G League, but would also hugely benefit from another season in Europe where he makes the starting position with Gran Canaria (or someone else) his — starting just 11 of his 54 games and averaging just 16 minutes per game.
Ultimately the best option for Diop is probably to remain in Europe and see what comes with more game-time and another year of development with the team that he has spent his professional career with so far and the team has come up through the ranks of but I do think there’s an NBA future for him.
As with so many prospects, it really depends where they are selected and what team selects them.
Speaking of, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic mocks Diop at 46th overall, just two spots below the Atlanta Hawks’ current projected pick at 44.
I actually quite like this for the Hawks as a stash option and the idea of Onyeka Okongwu and Khalifa Diop as two mobile bigs who can move defensively is one you can get behind if things pan out well for Diop and, who knows, perhaps by the time Diop is ready to come over, perhaps Clint Capela has moved on and the Hawks are in need of another backup center. And with Nate McMillian’s propriety to not play rookies, maybe a stash option is a better use of their second round pick (but, sadly, you can’t rule out the prospect of the Hawks just selling this pick).
ESPN rank Diop 39th on their ‘Best Available’ list, with Jonathon Givony having this to say about Diop in 2022 (I’ll chime in as we go through it).
Diop made his senior team debut with Gran Canaria in a Euroleague game nearly three years ago as a then-17 year old, but hasn’t fully entrenched himself in the rotation of one of Spain’s top teams until this season, which is understandable considering the level at which he competes.
Still the same age as some college freshmen, Diop is playing some of the best basketball of his career as of late, starting many of his team’s recent games and establishing himself as one of the most versatile defensive big men in the European game.
Diop is as mobile and energetic a big man as you’ll find in this class, tasked with putting out fires all over the floor for Gran Canaria, whether trapping opponents at half-court, switching or hedging ball-screens well beyond the 3-point line, helping off his man to double the post or protect the rim, and making some tremendous plays recovering from the perimeter to meet opponents at the summit. He generates quite a few more turnovers than the boxscore gives him credit for on a nightly basis, and his versatility as a 7-foot, 250 pound big man already well-versed in the nuances of high-level pick-and-roll defense should give him an immediate role to grow into early in his NBA career, despite being foul-prone and just an average defensive rebounder due to his occasional struggles keeping up with the speed of the game.
I think what Givony says about Diop generating turnovers lines up. Forced turnovers won’t appear on his individual boxscore but he makes defenses uncomfortable with his hedges and does force turnovers. Givony also noted that Diop occasionally struggles to keep up with the pace of the game which is certainly noteworthy.
Offensively, Diop has made steady progress with his skill level and feel for the game, becoming more reliable catching, passing and finishing around the basket, but has plenty of room to grow in this area still. He’s a poor screener, lacks a degree of explosiveness operating off two feet in traffic, and isn’t immune from missing point-blank shots in the paint. He doesn’t have range on his jumper and is just a 59% free throw shooter, sometimes not really being guarded by opponents. He does make up for that with the energy he brings on the offensive glass, and will surprise you every game by showing flashes of a new-found skill, be it short-roll passing or left-hand finishing, but will always likely be considered an “energy guy” even at his peak.
I disagree with Givony when he talks about Diop as a poor screener. Sure, there are times when he has to re-screen because the first one doesn’t work out but what I saw of him I thought he created good contact on his screens and was able to benefit himself and his teammates with his screens/pick-and-roll play (all of which we looked at).
The concern when it comes to a range on his jumper is understandable and the ‘energy guy’ ceiling would not surprise me…but I do still think there’s always a demand for this in the NBA.
What NBA teams think about Diop will likely largely depend on what they think about the level where he plays. For some, a 20-year old starting and finishing games at the ACB and EuroCup levels and making his presence felt on both ends of the floor will be extremely noteworthy, while others will point to his unremarkable numbers (6 points, 3.6 rebounds in 15 minutes per game) and prefer to target college big men instead.
Diop has a high floor as a NBA backup, but there are many teams who simply prefer to have highly skilled players on the floor at every position and won’t be interested in a player in this mold, which could relegate him to the second round. – Jonathan Givony
I don’t think there’s anything wrong where Diop plays in terms of his league, I don’t think teams should be concerned here. You could make that argument for Matteo Spagnolo and Gabriele Procida in Italy but I don’t think this is the case in Spain. There are quality teams in both the ACB and the EuroCup (Gran Canaria being one of them) and Diop performed well against that level of competition.
I agree with Givony when he talks about Diop’s high floor as an NBA backup — that could be very well be his path and where is used best. And I think that’s absolutely fine.
I think teams would be mistaken for passing on Khalifa Diop just based on the fact he’s not as ‘highly skilled.’ I think there’s more than enough to look past that here.