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What do the Oklahoma City Thunder have in Ousmane Dieng?

Sam Presti gambled three first-rounders on Dieng, is he going to win big?

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

It has been a while since Ousmane Dieng took the floor for the Oklahoma City Thunder, the rookie suffered a non-displaced fracture in his right wrist in a G-League game on the 14th of December.

Sam Presti’s belief in the 19-year-old was made evident on draft night when he traded three 2023 first round picks to the Knicks for the 11th pick to ensure they would be able to draft both Dieng and Jalen Williams.

Three first rounders for a long-term project pick seemed pricy but on reflection it was a fair price when you consider the picks dealt away.

  • Top-14 protected from the Wizards (if it does not convey, 1-12 in 2024, 1-10 in 2025, 1-8 in 2026)
  • Top-14 protected from the Nuggets (if it does not convey, 1-14 in 2024, 1-14 in 2025)
  • Top-18 protected from the Pistons (if it does not convey, protected 1-18 in 2024, 1-13 in 2025, 1-11 in 2026, 1-9 in 2027)

Out of the Thunder’s otherworldly haul of first-round draft picks, these are probably among the three least valuable in the collection. Presti has had his eye on Dieng since he first observed his game when he was 16 playing in Tony Parker’s basketball academy.

Presti seems to consider the picks traded a small price to pay for a guy who has through-the-roof potential and could become an integral component of a future contending Thunder team.

Let’s clarify one thing, Dieng is not currently an impactful player. Presti knew Ousmane was a project pick who would take time to settle. So far, Dieng’s first season has gone according to expectations.

If you are looking for effective basketball from Dieng at this stage of his career you are going to be disappointed, what you should be looking for is the flashes of star-level scoring upside that he showcases intermittently.

While he has not been performing at a high level in the NBA, his two separate G-League stints have been a cause for optimism. In 11 G-League games with the Blue, he has averaged 16 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists.

It goes without saying that G-League success does not always translate to NBA success, but getting him these reps that he may not otherwise get on a youthful Thunder with not a whole lot of minutes to go around will be imperative for his development.

Missing six weeks in his rookie season is an unfortunate bump in the road, but we still got a glimpse of what he could be in the 14 games played.

Silky smooth handle

An agile 6’10” wing with a silky smooth handle wearing number 13 for the Oklahoma City Thunder, remind you of anyone?

He has got good control over the ball but lacks the craftiness needed to consistently create his own shot. Dieng loves the jab-and-go move out of the triple threat as well his hesitation crossover, but that is about all he has in his bag right now. His game lacks diversity.

This is the classic “that’s a travel, ref!!” jab-and-go but the move is not actually a travel. As things currently stand, this is probably his most reliable move when he has the ball in his hands on the perimeter.

It is an effective move but Dieng is reliant on it and defenders will start to key in on it pretty quickly. He needs to add countermoves to his game when he faces the defense. A step-back or a quick change of direction would go a long way to diversifying Ousmane’s game.

This clip is a good example of Dieng having a good handle and his current struggles when it comes to gaining an advantage with the ball. He uses the jab-and-go, the defense reads him and Ousmane finishes the play with a tough, missed long-distance floater.

A good countermove would have provided him with more options when attacking the defense. Moreover, Ousmane loses sight of those around him and missed an easy dish to an open Jaylin Williams.

It is not concerning to see this weakness right now, Making better reads like this will come with experience and Ousmane is still among the youngest players in the NBA.

I would love to see him further develop his handle in the pick-and-roll. His size and length allow him to get downhill easily and an improved handle makes that job simpler. He is a fantastic finisher at the rim (76.5% inside the restricted area) and this is one of Ousmane’s best shooting zones.

Getting the opportunity to run the pick-and-roll in an NBA game is something that might not be an option for Dieng for a while and this is why the G-League is an extremely useful tool that will provide him with opportunities to develop. Playing for the Blue gives Ousmane the on-ball reps he needs to grow.

Dieng is not going to get many isolation opportunities either, so he needs to learn how to create his own shot with two or three dribbles while playing within the flow of the offense.

Cutting and slashing

The closest Dieng has come to having a positive impact is when he is moving off ball and cutting to the basket.

In this action, Ousmane makes the read that the defense is collapsing on the Kenrich Williams drive and opens up a good look. It is very good to see Dieng interpret space well, most rookies struggle to develop this skill. He recognises the weak-point in the defense and cuts from the perimeter for an easy lay-up.

This is exactly the type of play where he can make a living for the first few years of his career. His self-creation and outside shooting will take time to progress to respectable levels which is why Dieng needs to find ways to add value without the ball.

I would love to see more actions with him as the screener as well. He does a great job of slipping the screen and rolling into open space on this play. Putting himself in a position to get easy buckets like this will be crucial if he is to become a regular member of the Thunder’s rotation.

He is not always going to get the chance to break his defender down off the dribble and so he needs to fit into a role where he can contribute with efficient, smart basketball.

Can he shoot?

The answer to that question is currently no. The idea that Dieng can become a knockdown shooter later on is not too far-fetched. He has a nice, smooth form and has already ironed out some of the kinks that existed in his form back in the NBL.

It is a nice one-motion shot with a good transfer of power from his lower body, however, a higher set point could be the next improvement to be made.

This season he is only shooting 29.4% on three-pointers. In his 14 NBA games, he is 4-for-10 on spot-up threes in the left corner which is a promising sign. He is at 32.3% on catch-and-shoot threes which should be his role when it comes to outside shots.

The pull-up jumper is not a shot Ousmane should pursue. In fact, he has yet to make a pull-up three in his NBA career.

Yes, I know it is the G-League, but I would like to point out that in 11 G-League games, he was shooting 34.3% from three on over six attempts a game. There is a long way to go before Thunder fans around the globe can stop groaning whenever a three-point attempt leaves Dieng’s hands, but the potential is there in his game.

Playmaking vision

A large part of the reason behind Dieng being touted as a lottery prospect was because of his playmaking ability at that size. Bigger wings are able to make passes that a lot of guards cannot do as they have a better vision of the play and find more open angles than say, a 6’3” guard could.

Dieng realises early on his drive that Luke Kennard is ball-watching and has lost track of Darius Bazley cutting baseline. John Wall, the help defender is too focused on the drive and leaves Bazley wide open. Dieng even adds in a little no-look to add some flare.

Dieng sees the game well and despite his lack of experience causing problems in many other areas of the game, his decision-making with the ball in his hands is impressive. He is decisive and if he sees a passing lane he will throw the ball before the avenue closes.

It is great to see that he does not seem to struggle with the increased pace of an NBA game. It seems that playing professional basketball in Australia’s NBL for a year before coming over to the NBA has stood him in good stead.

Dieng making passes out of the short roll could be a very effective action for the Thunder and is something we could see more of upon his return from injury in a few weeks. The threat of attacking the rim or kicking it out to shooters if the defense collapses can be frightening for opposing defenses and it is not yet an action the Thunder have tried out all that much.

What’s the verdict?

Ousmane Dieng is a big-time project, we have known this since the pre-draft process. While he is several years away from being a positively impactful player on a consistent game-to-game basis, Thunder fans should be excited about Dieng’s control over the ball and potential to create shots for himself once he develops a more diverse arsenal of go-to moves.

You can see the road to him becoming a star-level scorer. It is a really, really long road, but the road exists. Big wings that can score the ball and create for themselves are all the rage right now and if the Thunder can provide Dieng with the right development opportunities, they may have their very own.

To be effective in the short term, Dieng will need to rely on making smart cuts and getting his buckets within the flow of the offense, as well as being a solid connective passer.

Dieng remains out with a wrist injury but is on schedule to be reevaluated around the 26th of January. He will likely see more G-League time this season but with the Thunder’s injuries in the front court, he should see more game time in the big leagues.

It will be exciting to follow his development over the next few years and see if Presti’s gamble will pay off in the long run.