Fresh off of filling their 17-man roster, the Oklahoma City Thunder were still looking to bolster their training-camp rotation.
In fulfilling their needs, Thunder GM Sam Presti looked no further than center Mamadi Diakite.
Three days removed from the Milwaukee Bucks waiving Diakite, Presti elected to bring in the big man with a highly-coveted waiver claim – absorbing $100 thousand as a result of the acquisition.
The former Virginia Cavalier had a short-lived tenure in training camp and preseason play, as following a measly 14 minutes of preseason run, the 24-year-old suffered a preseason-ending left hip fracture. Even more unfortunate, Diakite’s unavailability placed himself into a vulnerable situation come cutting time – and after the chopping block was made – he was on the outside looking in.
Since Diakite’s injury from nearly three months ago, the center was yet to participate in professional play whatsoever. However, with the 24-year-old back to good health, the Oklahoma City Thunder threw him another bone Tuesday, signing him to a 10-day contract.
From Presti waltzing out his waiver claim to the franchise maintaining interest close to three months later, it’s been evident Diakite has caught the eyes of Thunder executives.
But, will he be able to turn his quarterly interest into a full-time gig in Bricktown?
First, let’s take a look at the center’s prior professional history.
Although Diakite spent a full four seasons in college, the former Virginia Cavalier beamed nothing but success in his rookie campaign last season.
Opening the season without a standard deal, Diakite exceeded expectations in the bubble tallying 18.5 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks across 12 games for the Lakeland Magic. Ultimately netting the big a G League Championship, a two-way contract conversion with the Milwaukee Bucks, and an NBA championship by the conclusion of his first year.
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By the end of year one, Diakite averaged 3.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 0.6 assists in 14 appearances with the Bucks. In his two preseason games with the Thunder, the big man checked in 4.5 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 1.0 block across 12.2 minutes.
Fast forward to today, a healthy Diakite should be in prime position for an opportunity with the Thunder.
At 6-foot-9, Diakite slips in Mark Daigneault’s “small-ball” mold to a tee. Catering towards the Thunder philosophy even more so, the big lacks a bit in both the size and strength departments, but with a high-level of athleticism, coupled with a 7-foot-3 wingspan – he’s more than capable on both sides of the ball.
As displayed in the G League bubble last season, Diakite was one of the top interior forces in Orlando, rattling off not only 10.4 boards, with 2.8 of which coming on offense, but also rising up against larger matchups for 2.1 blocks. In regards to his slashing, he utilized his nimble foot speed and competent handle to penetrate against larger defenders, oftentimes cashing in on secondary moves, such as moving spins, to set up layups around the cup.
Adding a 24-year-old to the mix may seem a tad counterproductive to a roster coated with 10 players 23 or younger. However, with frontcourt veterans in Derrick Favors and Mike Muscala at 30 years old and two tweeners in Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Isaiah Roby currently filling the five, splicing in a full-time five in Diakite would pay some dividends.
As aforementioned, there has been mutual respect between the center and the franchise over the course of the regular season. But, with a Thunder roster with one open roster spot and both two-way slots filled, tapping into the roster would be easier said than done.
Even though an opening is available, it’d be extremely unlikely to see Diakite garner a standard deal with the Thunder, especially with guard Aaron Wiggins yet to be upgraded, and a trade deadline brewing with contenders looking to offload nasty contracts. For Presti, he’ll be looking to capitalize on fostering the future.
By accessing the roster, the best opportunity for the 24-year-old in extending his future rests in a two-way contract, either via Wiggins’ contract conversion, or the waiving of Paul Watson Jr.
Watson Jr., age 27, has yet to impress at either the G League of NBA level this season. With the OKC Blue, Watson Jr. has attempted a colossal 12.0 shot attempts across eight games, but has only yielded 12.8 points. In nine games with the Thunder, Watson Jr. has placed a lowly 3.4 points in 17.3 minutes, freefalling from a 46.9% three-point clip last season to a 23.1% output on 2.9 tries per game.
Diakite will wield four opportunities to make an impression with the Thunder before his 10-day contract officially ends. Following his stay, it will be up to management to determine if the 24-year-old is here for long haul, or if he was only inked for extended evaluation.