Lasting perhaps one spot longer than he should have, Brew Hoopers voted bench-warming, flagrant-fouling, camera-loving, and all-around bon-vivant big man Mamadi Diakite off the island by a wide margin. I concur with what Adam said yesterday: Sandro Mamukelashvili is the more intriguing player if only because we don’t know what he’ll be yet. Mamu might become a decent role player or he might never see the court aside from garbage time. With Diakite, however, we have slightly a better handle on his viability as an NBA player. Either way, neither guy will likely factor into the Bucks’ postseason success, so no large deal.
I recall Diakite from Virginia’s 2019 national title-winning team as being the big guy with dyed blonde hair (which made a comeback late this year!) who made a huge huge buzzer-beater that kept their run going in the Elite Eight. The Guinean was a four-year player at UVA, becoming a role-playing starter for the champs as a junior and the team’s leading scorer as a senior. His chance to lead the Cavaliers in their championship defense was thwarted (like so many things) by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, canceling the 2020 NCAA Tournament.
After going undrafted, Diakite hooked on with Milwaukee on a two-way deal prior to the start of the regular season last November. He was a DNP-CD in the season opener, but that was the last time he was active for a while: he didn’t dress again for two more months. Since the Bucks’ Wisconsin Herd affiliate opted out of the G League’s shortened season in their Orlando bubble, he was sent to the Magic’s affiliate to get some burn. Diakite was outstanding there: he totaled 18.5 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 2.1 BPG which garnered a First Team All-G League spot, plus selections to the league’s All-Defense and All-Rookie teams. His jumper looked pretty pure as he shot a cool .580/.500/.750 on 13.1 FGA/game and he appeared to have the length to switch between multiple positions on defense. The Lakeland Magic claimed the league title in March, which means that in less than three calendar years, Diakite was somewhat incredibly a part of three championship squads. Not bad!
With that winning pedigree and enough G League highlights to break Bucks Twitter, a portion of the Bucks fanbase was quite vocal online about getting Diakite meaningful rotation time in the frontcourt. In reward for his Orlando performance, he made his NBA debut with 5 garbage time minutes in a blowout win over the Knicks on March 11th. This meant he actually didn’t play in the NBGL title game, but given the choice, I’m sure he’d have picked an actual NBA appearance over a G League ring (which surely can’t actually exist).
Though I’m not going to point fingers, around this time some fans weren’t just calling for Diakite to take a spot in the rotation, but to actually bench Brook Lopez in favor of him. That was a bad take then (Brook Lopez always deserved to be starting for this team, matchups be damned) and looks even worse now after Lopez’s strong playoff run. While that’s not Diakite’s fault, I think people went a bit too overboard after seeing him succeed against inferior G League competition. When Diakite got NBA minutes—even in low-leverage situations—he just didn’t look like an NBA player at the 4 and definitely not at the 5. Even so, after the Bucks passed the date where they could fit a minimum player under the hard cap in April, they filled their 15th roster spot by signing Diakite to a multi-year deal that’s partially guaranteed for the 2020–21 and fully non-guaranteed for the season after.
Of the mere 176 combined minutes Diakite played last regular season and postseason, many came in the fourth quarter of games whose outcomes had already been decided, but 84 came over three games Mike Budenholzer punted by resting all his starters (naturally, all were losses). His per-36 numbers were okay over his 14 appearances and his numbers were respectable in those three aforementioned contests, but each opponent (New York, Charlotte, and Chicago) was also without top players like Julius Randle, Gordon Hayward, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic—not to mention that Diakite wasn’t playing alongside any of the Bucks’ starters.
Cleaning The Glass cuts out garbage time from their stats, which by their definition gives Diakite 108 minutes of consequential action. In terms of points per attempt during those appearances, he was in the 3rd percentile of big men and shot .394/.143/.786. I’ll distill it further into the two games he played with rotation guys in LA, versus the Clippers and Lakers (actual real-life good NBA teams!) at the end of March: 12 minutes, 5 points on 2/3 shooting, 2 boards, 2 fouls, 1 turnover with no assists, blocks, or steals. That’s the best we have to go off of when evaluating Mamadi Diakite’s fit with the Bucks’ core.
When he played with the starters, his usage rate was appropriately low and due to his deference, didn’t appear incompetent. Credit to him for that, but I recall plenty of other instances when checking in late during a blowout or during those all-bench games where he made mistakes we usually notice from fringe NBA talents. His shooting was very inefficient too: 42.5% of his FGA came between the rim (≤3 feet) and the three-point arc (league average: 35.4%) but he shot an awful 23.5% from those areas (league average: 42.4%).
This is because he lacks the strength to be effective down low on either end of the court: without the ability to muscle past defenders, he can’t create a good enough shot against a contest and settles for jumpers. That leads me to his fouling, the main drawback I see with Diakite. Young players without the bulk to hold position get tossed around in the paint or are whistled a lot because hacking is their only defensive recourse, and he’s no exception. While he flashed some shot-blocking ability, his 4.1 personals per 36 minutes would rank him in the 10th percentile league-wide if he had enough playing time to qualify. Obviously, all of these shortcomings don’t fly come postseason.
The most notable thing Diakite did in the playoffs—and probably his entire Bucks career to this point—was entering late in Game 2 of the Brooklyn series with the Bucks down *checks notes* 41 points, then committing a flagrant-1 within 45 seconds. This was totally unnecessary at best and classless at worst, but many described it as the most passionate thing a Buck had done to that point in the series, with tongue-in-cheek. Surprisingly, it’s not even the most recent flagrant he’s had:
Mamadi Diakite was assigned a flagrant 2 foul (ejected) #NBASummerLeague pic.twitter.com/8ZRADNG9cV— Cream City Central (@CreamCityCtral) August 11, 2021
Outside of that ignominious moment, Diakite looked a lot worse in his first Summer League than he did in the G League last winter, averaging 9.8 PPG, 6 RPG, 0.6 BPG in 24.7 MPG over 5 games. His shooting line was .400/.286/.900 and his foul rate was actually higher in Vegas than it was last regular season at 4.7 per 36. With Jordan Nwora lighting up scoreboards plus some very intriguing play from Mamu, Diakite doesn’t look like the Bucks’ most promising young player, if he ever truly was.
So, what did Diakite do for the team last year? Well, he became buddies with Brook Lopez, then after the P.J. Tucker trade made for a fine D.J. Wilson replacement as bench hype man, victory cigar, and Bucks social media team magnet. Since Thanasis can do all those things and is Giannis’ brother (plus he actually fouls more often!) I question what further value—if any—Diakite can provide to Milwaukee in the regular season; forget the playoffs. Maybe he gets some more blowout PT the Bucks if are running roughshod over teams in the regular season like they did in 2019 and 2020, but I’d rather see those minutes at the 4 go to Nwora or Mamu in hopes that they one day could be postseason contributors. Diakite is not even a “project” in my eyes; I don’t consider a dozen G League games to be indicative of someone’s potential as an NBA role player, no matter how good they looked. At age 24, there may be some room to improve, but I highly doubt it would be enough to make him stick on a roster. He could get some actual run in a lottery team’s rotation, but I see no reason to believe he’d look any better than what we’ve seen so far in the league.
Diakite is on a minimum contract for 2021–22 that’s partially guaranteed for $100K, but if he remains on the roster past December 15th that guarantee increases to $500K. Milwaukee has 13 fully guaranteed players under contract, with two other partially/non-guaranteed players (Georgios Kalaitzakis and Elijah Bryant) vying for places on the Bucks’ regular-season roster in addition to Diakite. It’s safe to assume that Kalaitzakis will take one of those two remaining spots and Diakite seems pretty likely to claim the other over the smaller Bryant given their thin frontcourt. The Bucks could cut Diakite loose at any point in the coming months and owe him comparatively little, but replacing him with another minimum player would cost the team substantially more than the sum of that minimum deal and the guaranteed portion of Diakite’s contract due to steep luxury tax penalties they’ll face this year. Meanwhile, they can cut Bryant and owe him zero.
So we’ll likely see Mamadi Diakite being a goof on the Bucks’ bench for opening night and on their social media channels, but who knows how long he’ll remain in Milwaukee. With that said, let’s move onto the 13th spot in our poll...
The 13th Most Important Player to Milwaukee’s Postseason Success is...
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