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The emergence of Ousmane Dieng

The young French forward has looked impressive over the last few weeks

NBA: Preseason-Dallas Mavericks at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

When Sam Presti traded three picks to take Ousmane Dieng in the 2022 NBA Draft, it was a widely criticised decision. He is a 6’11 wing with legitimate two-way upside and is the sort of player that all teams value highly but it was a lopsided trade. Three picks for just one rookie was expensive.

Dieng’s potential is clear but he was seen as a risky proposition before the Draft. He had shown ability as a ball-handler for New Zealand Breakers but there were clear weaknesses to his game. Ousmane was rail-thin and did not like to take contact when attacking the basket. Dieng looked to be your classic ‘high-ceiling, low-floor’ prospect.

When the Thunder drafted Ousmane, I did not expect him to see serious minutes for the main roster due to the logjam at forward. Darius Bazley, Aleksej Pokusevsksi, Aaron Wiggins and Kenrich Williams were all cemented in Coach Daigneault’s rotation. It made a lot of sense for Ousmane to go down to the Blue and develop his body to meet the rigours of an 82-game season.

His preseason performances have gone some way to subverting those expectations. Ousmane has grown in confidence over the last two weeks and put in an excellent performance against Maccabi Ra’anana. He finished the game with 18 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds while shooting the ball efficiently.

The obvious caveat is that Maccabi Ra’anana are not an NBA-level opponent but it was an impressive all-around performance nonetheless. Ousmane’s jumper was more fluid and efficient than what we previously saw in the NBL. His passing was sharp and I thought he did a good job of leading his teammates into good scoring opportunities without being reckless with how he used the ball.

Before the Draft, there was a concern about whether Ousmane’s defense and his tendency to switch off when not engaged as the primary defender. Through the first three games of preseason, Ousmane has been active and his help rotations have been timely. He is doing a good job of using his length to contest shots and crowd passing lanes.

Dieng’s size does count against him but I like his persistence when playing against stronger competition. His temperament and stamina compensates for his lack of strength and allows him to get results on defensive possessions.

My overall impression of Ousmane from these first three games is that he is more ready for rotation minutes than what was previously anticipated. Dieng does genuinely look like the sort of player who could slot into the reserve unit, play high energy defense and knock down open looks from deep.

The question is where do the Thunder find those nightly minutes for Ousmane Dieng? Trading Derrick Favors and waiving Isaiah Roby has opened more space in the rotation but Ousmane is still competing against the likes of Bazley and Pokusevski for minutes. He is going to have to earn his place and I think he is already well on that path.

Dieng has already shown an understanding of his role and the team’s approach. Forwards for the Thunder are expected to guard two positions, take good shots and play unselfishly. Their role is not to isolate on the perimeter and create in isolation, OKC have perimeter shot-creators who fill that role. So far, Ousmane has met the job description to a tee.

The same can be said for Aleksej Pokusevski but the same cannot be said for Darius Bazley. Bazley still seems intent on getting on the ball and getting his own without thinking about how he impacts his teammates’ performances.

As players go, Bazley is more talented than Dieng right now but his style of play does not fit the Thunder all that well. Darius is not the sort of passer who willingly gives the ball up to a teammate in a better position, Bazley will always hunt his own shot first. His approach is not congruent with the Thunder’s selfless play.

Dieng meets that mould; Ousmane is more than willing to bring others into play and recognises the importance of being decisive with the ball. He does not waste time setting up his own dribbles while his teammates stand in the corner going cold. For this reason, I think that Ousmane should take Bazley’s minutes and play every single night for Coach Daigneault instead of spending time in the Blue.