A Peculiar Draft in the Room

De’Aaron Fox calls out a play. (Photo by Victoria Graff)

An article in The Courier-Journal suggested Hamidou Diallo has ruffled a lot of feathers within Big Blue Nation, and his decision to return is now regarded as “so what?” (Let’s revisit that in November.)

Diallo’s explanation seemed logical, thoughtful and heartfelt. He said, “This is something I had to do for me and my family. … Playing in the NBA has always been my ultimate goal.”

Maybe he should have said all that at the outset before he headed off to NBA combine-land.

Overall, it’s been a fairly strange few weeks for Kentucky’s pro basketball candidates, and the draft itself is still three weeks away.

Diallo declared for the draft, but he didn’t hire an agent. He went to the combine, but he didn’t play any basketball. It was hinted he was trying to hide his on-court deficiencies. He’s reputed to be a poor shooter.

But if he’s not ready for combine play, how could he be ready for the NBA?

Even more peculiar, he was encouraged in all this by his (sort of) coach. John Calipari said he told Diallo, “Don’t show them too much.”

Isn’t the point of the workout to show “too much?” How much is “too much?”

I get it. Cal wanted to assure his (sort of) Kentucky player a good draft position, with guaranteed first-round money – whether or not Diallo actually qualified for it at this point.

Apparently, he learned that he didn’t. I guess pro scouts are suspicious when a player won’t play, no matter how high he can jump.

But sometimes, Calipari seems to be acting against the best interests of his teams. It’s one thing to encourage Bam Adebayo to go out into the real world. Bam gave Kentucky his best efforts for a season. But Diallo never played here. Somehow, you hope Cal was thinking down deep, “I’d like Diallo to actually play for me.”

As for Bam, he has bungeed up and down in the draft consensus, from surefire lottery all the way down to early second round and then back up to late first round. Pro scouts seemed less impressed with his shoulders and musculature than Big Blue Nation was, focusing instead on his height (ordinary in the NBA), shooting ability (never showed much in college) and ability to defend.

This seemed to me a case of a player absolutely benefiting from a sophomore season – and a season in which he could have played his natural 4 position instead of the demanding 5.

And yet, when Bam was asked why he made his decision to turn pro, he paused as he always seems to do, choosing the right thoughts, the right words. Finally, he said, “I want to take care of my mother. She’s always been there for me. I want to be there for her.”

Case closed! Good luck, young man.

For De’Aaron Fox, the trajectory has only been upward. Many see him as a better point guard than Lonzo Ball. (Washington’s Markell Fultz is ceded – and seeded – No. 1). Fox impressed scouts not only with his skills but also with his interviews. “Thoughtful … humble … intelligent.” I always felt he was all that, though I think any player will appear humble and intelligent in the same draft year when Ball’s father is embarrassing himself all over the place.

Someone suggested Fox and Ball go one-on-one, winner take all. A draft match race. Didn’t they do that twice last season? Didn’t Fox win both times?

But it appears that the Lakers, who draft second, are enamored with Ball’s Southern California pedigree and built-in local fan interest. Magic Johnson seems ready to handle the baggage of Ball senior. Maybe he even thinks it’s a good fit for the personality-driven L.A. market.

The rap on Fox has always been that he’s not a great shooter. But neither was John Wall. (Nor, for that matter, is Lonzo Ball.) Like Wall, Fox is a wondrous athlete with dazzling speed – and magical with the ball. Like Wall, Fox is an NBA all-star in the making.

There’s been much less noise about Malik Monk. He was projected somewhere between fifth and 10th, and there he stays. Though his skills are inhuman, the most-occurring commentary remains the 47 points he scored against North Carolina. But that was in December. In March, Monk averaged only 13 points a game – and 12 in the North Carolina rematch.

But he’s a shooter. And the NBA loves shooters. The bad teams, drafting early, always need one. VT