Ousmane Dieng’s Development on Display in Overtime Win 'This is what I work for'

When Ousmane Dieng knocked home the game-winner in the first round of the G League playoffs, all his hard work paid off in the biggest moment.
Jan 11, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Ousmane Dieng (13) runs
Jan 11, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Ousmane Dieng (13) runs / Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
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When Ousmane Dieng was selected 11th overall in the 2022 NBA Draft, everyone knew he was a project pick. A raw forward that had guard like skills but would take time to round into form at the next level.

Since that day in June, the conversation around Dieng organizationally has been getting him to play with more "offensive force," as Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault calls it. His physicality and willingness to mix it up down low has been part of his game that Daigneault and OKC Blue head coach Kameron Woods have harped on since the first time he touched the hardwood in Bricktown.

Last season, there were stretches in the NBA and even the G League, where Dieng almost floated around the court. Not making a massive impact, not getting in anyone's way, just sort of there. However, there were also flashes of this high-upside shot creator and defender that he was billed to be. He just needed more force.

In year two, working in the shadows of the "invisible league" as Daigneault calls it, Dieng has made massive strides.

During the 2023-24 G League season, Dieng threw down a career-high 47 slams including 15 and-one's and shooting 65 percent at the rim ranking him in the 83rd percentile in the G League. The 6-foot-9 forward has learned to use his body and burst to get to the rim even turning in 1.438 points per possession on cuts.

On Tuesday, the OKC Blue returned to the G League Playoffs for the first time in five seasons. Playing host to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Blue played a game that embodied their season.

The 2023-24 campaign has been filled with a constant rest to the team's resiliency. From their 0-4 start to the regular season to seeing players plugged off the roster for NBA and Olympic opportunities. The Blue found a way to rebound and put themselves in position to host a playoff game.

Against the Vipers, the Blue eventually grew a 15-point lead after a back-and-forth start, before Rio Grande Valley pushed Oklahoma City to the brink of elimination sending the game to overtime.

It was there that all the hard work showed itself in the biggest moment for Dieng. When the 2022 Lottery pick soared into the air to haul in a defensive rebound, it sent him to the line via drawing a loose ball foul on the Vipers to tie the game.

Just plays later, with the score tied and the game on the line with the next basket winning the contest in the Elam ending format, Dieng drove to the basket initiated contact, and sank the game-winner to send the Blue to the conference semi-finals.

"It felt good. That is what I work for." Dieng told Inside the Thunder following the Blue's overtime win over the Vipers.

Kameron Woods echoed that sentiment telling Inside the Thunder "For him that is massive, for our team that is massive...What is encouraging is when he came back in the game late all he did was double down on making effort plays. I thought he had the right approach through the ups and downs of the game and it allowed him to go make two huge plays."

When Dieng knocked in the game-winner he mean-mugged his way to his teammates before emphatically slapping Keyontae Johnson's hand and being mobbed by the Blue convoy. That level of expression and emotion is something that he has done more of this season.

Dieng acknowledged that he has worn his emotions on his sleeves more this season postgame with Inside the Thunder. You can attribute part of that emotion to the confidence that has been built this season with Dieng averaging 16.4 points, 5.5 assists, 7.8 rebounds, 1.1 steals and a block per game with the Blue.

On the biggest stage, Dieng's development was put on full display. The second year forward is tracking just as projected and has continued to show the reason you gamble on his skillset.


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Rylan Stiles

RYLAN STILES

Rylan Stiles is a credentialed media member covering the Oklahoma City Thunder. He hosts the Locked On Thunder Podcast, and is Lead Beat Writer for Inside the Thunder. Rylan is also an award-winning play-by-play broadcaster for the Oklahoma Sports Network.