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Meet Ousmane Dieng, the Thunder's Mystery Man Worth Three First-Round Picks

Oklahoma City is betting on its scouting and development with selection of high-risk high-reward point-forward Ousmane Dieng.

Sam Presti described his feelings as “thrilled” following the Thunder’s draft haul Thursday night. Oklahoma City’s successful evening included three lottery picks in Chet Holmgren, Jalen Williams, and Ousmane Dieng. along with Arkansas big man Jaylin Williams later on.

Holmgren was destined to end up in Oklahoma City, as his fondness for the Thunder and vice-versa was the worst kept secret of the draft. The other two picks, however, were relatively unexpected, especially the notion of trading back into the lottery. Many mock drafts had the Thunder trying to sneak up to No. 7 for Shaedon Sharpe, but as the pick came-and-went, it seemed like OKC would stay put at No. 12.

Thunder fans were caught off guard when commissioner Adam Silver announced that Presti and co had traded up to No. 11 with the New York Knicks, guessing it was a swap to move up a spot. Nonetheless, Oklahoma City picked up the Knicks pick while keeping No. 12 in the process, making back-to-back selections.

Later revealed to be in exchange for three protected first round draft picks, the Thunder selected a ball-handling 6-foot-10 forward in Dieng from the National Basketball League. While the picks have relatively heavy protections, Presti’s willingness to spend draft capital and move up speaks volumes to the potential of Dieng.

The high-flying New Zealand Breaker came on strong towards the end of the year, displaying everything that scouts had pegged him as in the lottery range. While some front office’s and scouts were scared off by Dieng’s slow start, Oklahoma City’s advantage came from Presti’s due diligence years ago. The Thunder general manager first spotted Dieng when he was 16 years old and 6-foot-3.

The French wing caught Presti’s eye with his competitive nature and ball-handling ability. Then, he grew seven inches.

Dieng’s build, and overall game, was already impressive at 6-foot-3, but what made him so special in Presti’s eyes was the same, lasting qualities after a massive growth spurt. He has the craftiness of a guard in a forwards body and it shows in the development of his game. Following his selection, Dieng mentioned two of the players he looked up to most when modeling his game were Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum, further connecting the dots.

In Australia, it wasn’t always smooth sailing for Dieng, and that’s another aspect that Oklahoma City found so attractive. He committed to improvement, and it directly correlated in his development curve. The then-18-year-old struggled mightily to begin the season, and it’s easy to see why. In a completely new environment, Dieng was adjusting to the pace of playing against professionals while dealing with a wrist injury. His inspiring second half stretch earned him a workout in Oklahoma City, and prompted Presti to give up beloved draft capital to secure him.

Dieng finished his lone season in Australia averaging 8.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. While still solid overall production, his play over the last 12 games is the main source of intrigue.

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In that span, which included three playoff games, Dieng averaged 13.3 points per game while shooting 33% from behind the 3-point line. He scored 18 or more points in three of the Breakers last five games. He seemed much more comfortable and confident, knocking down open looks and creating opportunities off the dribble with step-backs and side-steps. Over his last six games, Dieng shot 42.9% from deep.

After he had settled in and learned his role, he looked like a completely different player on the floor, and the stats back it up. The second half of the season was night and day for Dieng.

The idea that Dieng can endure the hardships of professional basketball at such a young age, including the lows, while still striving to improve, is what affirms Presti and the Thunder. Much like the NBL, Dieng will likely experience a harsh learning curve off the bat. He’s an incredibly raw prospect. His potential and playmaking ability on both ends of the floor were simply too much to pass up, though, especially for someone like Presti who has been enthralled for years.

His game is incredibly unique, possessing high value in both the on-ball and off-ball categories. Dieng can be used as a slasher and a play finisher, as he has a great feel for the game and follows the ball with purpose on offense. He’s already improved his catch-and-shoot abilities, but will have plenty of time to further develop his jump shot in Oklahoma City. He also displays potential with the ball in his hands too, though. Dieng shows flashes of creation, displaying natural abilities driving off the pick-and-roll, and often opting for his smooth go-to floater.

When he handles the ball on offense, he draws so much attention that it allows his teammates to shift towards the open spot. On many occasions last season, Dieng would drive and float through the air, making his decision on who to kick out to on the fly. While sometimes it can be a bad habit for players to get caught in the air, Dieng seems to have to rare ability to draw the defense in and find the open man regardless.

At 6-foot-10, his defensive potential is through the roof. He moves and defends like a guard, but has the height to stick with centers. Adjusting to the physicality of the NBA is going to be a massive adjustment for Dieng, and he won’t be able to guard bigger bodies for a long time, but the potential to someday guard one-through-five will get the wheels turning. He also has impressive instincts when it comes to both blocking shots and stealing passes.

As I mentioned before the draft, a player like Dieng would be a swing for the fences. Sam Presti wasn’t afraid to swap future assets and step up to the plate. Whether or not Dieng turns into a player will remain to be seen, but with the Thunder, he’s in the perfect spot to flourish.

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