(Image – Erin Edgerton – Daily Progress)
Hopes were high among the UVA faithful for Mamadi Diakite heading into Wednesday night’s NBA draft. Diakite appeared to be a mid-to-late second round pick to follow in the footsteps of Kyle Guy and Devon Hall as late draft picks by teams looking to develop talent for the future. Unfortunately for Mamadi, by the time the 60th and final pick came in, his name was still on the board. This wasn’t necessarily a surprising result. But UVA’s recent success in the draft and Diakite’s successful fifth year at Virginia suggested that there’d be something to celebrate on Wednesday.
So, what went wrong? Why wasn’t Diakite selected? There are a number of explanations, ranging from his limitations as a player, the NBA’s drafting tendencies, and the effects that COVID-19 had on the evaluation process.
Primarily, Diakite’s flaws as a player are the most prominent justifications for going undrafted. Despite considerable development over the last eighteen months, he’s still incomplete as an offensive player. He’s developed a consistent shot from behind the arc – capitalizing on 35.7% of his three-pointers last season – and is growing as a threat in the post. But, he still lacks a defining offensive skill outside of being a skilled finisher.
Diakite lacks a go-to post game, as he only scored 0.85 points per possession on post ups last season. He’s not going to be backing anybody down and prefers to face up in the post and attack with ball fakes as he relies on the threat of his smooth mid range jumper. Additionally, he very rarely passes the ball out of the post and struggles to feel help when it arrives, leaving him susceptible to quick, weak side help. He also doesn’t have a ton of playmaking ability as he’s not a threat off the dribble.
Defensively is where he could be an immediate contributor. Mamadi is an effective shot blocker as he touts a 7’3.5” wingspan and phenomenal timing. His 10.2% shot block rate in 2018-2019 was 24th nationally and 1st in the ACC. In his last year at Virginia, that number dipped to 5.3%, but that was a result of playing alongside Jay Huff. In fact, last season Diakite proved himself as an effective wing defender. He’s quick enough to stick with smaller guys and has the length to bother shooters. His knock defensively is that, at 6’9” and 224 pounds, he lacks the size of a true NBA big man. As he grows stronger, that will become less of an issue.
But, for now, he’s still a tweener as a guy who is better suited defensively as a power forward but lacks the offensive skillset to play the position. Mamadi’s ceiling is likely as a pick and roll/pick and pop big off the bench who can be a plus as a shot blocker and help defender as long as he can avoid matchups with significantly bigger, bulkier centers.
NBA Drafting Tendencies
Obviously, while the drafting tendencies of NBA teams is out of Diakite’s control, there’s no denying that these tendencies are a massive component in the explanation for why he wasn’t drafted. As a league, the NBA has been trending towards younger, rawer talent for a while. Older, experienced college players tend to fall off in the draft, but can still be contributors early in their careers, so teams are willing to pick them with a late selection.
As a twenty-three year old who is still a raw prospect himself, Mamadi gets the short end of the stick. He’ll still likely get an opportunity as an undrafted free agent, but he’ll have less leeway in an organization than younger guys and he’ll need to show real promise to establish himself for the long term.
Effects of COVID-19
Of course, COVID-19 has completely disfigured the 2020 draft process. This was especially detrimental for Diakite after he made a significant jump between his fourth and fifth years at UVA and lost the opportunity to show out in front of scouts. Especially considering he made such impressive developments in the areas of his game that scouts from the 2019 draft process suggested he work on, that dearth of opportunities is a real shame. Additionally, the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament stripped him of an opportunity to impress on a big stage as Virginia appeared poised for another potential deep run in March.
Despite all that, I still fully expect for a team to sign Diakite in coming days and give him the chance to compete in preseason camp and get experience with a G League affiliate either on a two-way contract or a short term G League deal. He’s going to get his shot. It’ll come down to whether or not he can impress an organization who is willing to take a chance on him.