Thunder’s Ousmane Dieng is looking to join Josh Giddey as the next NBL prospect to find success in the NBA

French rookie Ousmane Dieng has the opportunity to follow in the unique footsteps of some of the NBA’s brightest young guards.

After spending a season in the NBL, the 19-year-old was drafted 11th overall in the 2022 NBA Draft. Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti was so high in Dieng that he was willing to send three future first-round picks to the New York Knicks to win it.

“I think you have to take some risks with the design,” Presti told me. “Especially for us with the design of the CBA. I thought that was a pretty good bet because you don’t see that type of player very often.”

Dieng participated in the NBL’s Next Stars program, which has produced some of the best up-and-coming talent in the NBA in recent years. In fact, in the two years leading up to the 2022 NBA draft, the program saw RJ Hampton, LaMelo Ball and Josh Giddey all hear their names in the first round. Next Stars was created as a player development program to quickly find future NBA prospects.

What’s interesting is that a former Thunder draft pick was a huge stepping stone in putting this program together. Terrance Ferguson spent a season with the Adelaide 36ers before being drafted 21st overall by Oklahoma City in the 2021 NBA Draft. Allowing players this unique path into the NBA was something the NBL wanted to formalize and make more common. In the season following Ferguson’s draft, this program was introduced.

Players like Dieng are selected by a panel of experts appointed by the NBL. He spent a season with Sky Sport New Zealand Breakers where he had a season of ups and downs.

In the first 11 games of the NBL season, the 6-foot-10 wing averaged 4.1 points, 2.1 rebounds and 0.9 assists per game. He was extremely inefficient when adapting to the adult playstyle, shooting only 24.6% from the ground and 15.4% from beyond the arc.

From then on, Dieng started to figure things out. In his next 11 games, he produced 14.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.4 assists while converting 48.4% of his shots from the field and 35.7% of his 3-point attempts.

One could argue that the time it took Dieng to make his move was awkward. At just 18, he moved to a whole new country to play professionally outside of the NBA against some of the best players in the world.

Due to the pandemic and a COVID outbreak within the team, Dieng and the Breakers were forced to live and play in Australia for the first half of the season. Living in hotels, the young wing tried to adjust to playing in this new league.

He had to adapt culturally not only on the pitch but also off the pitch.

That improvement later in the season is the main reason he ended up moving up the draft boards. He also boasted a 7ft 1 wingspan and a defensive disruption that translated well in the NBA on the defensive end.

Against this background, Presti Dieng has been observing for several years.

The first time Presti and Thunder’s scouting group saw him play in person was when Dieng was at INSEP almost four years ago, a French training institute and center that coaches aspiring athletes. At the time, the French phenomenon was a 16-year-old security guard who was 6ft 3 tall.

Presti mentioned that he had met with several of Dieng’s teammates over the years who always spoke highly of his work ethic.

Since the Thunder caught their first glimpse of Dieng, he has grown almost eight inches, but has retained his guarding abilities. This makes him a unique prospect that is still raw but has the tools to evolve into a special player.

“It just feels really good. He handles the ball gracefully,” said the Thunder GM. “He can physically put himself in positions that most guys his size can’t. He can dribble with that size, it’s really unique. He has a really good feeling with the ball in his hands.”

Dieng had his first opportunity to play in a Thunder uniform earlier this month in the NBA Summer League.

In his first game in Salt Lake City, he had 10 points and four rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench. It wasn’t the most efficient performance, but the versatility and playmaking shone brightly. In his next two games in Utah, he averaged just six points and seven rebounds. Again he struggled to kick the ball and was prone to turnovers but the topside popped.

When the team headed to Las Vegas for their second Summer League event, the stage just got bigger for the young wing. In the Thunder’s opening contest, he scored 10 points, along with six rebounds, but went 0-to-5 from beyond the arc and was again inefficient.

After resting in Oklahoma City’s second game in Las Vegas, Dieng put together his best game yet.

On Wednesday night, he was one of the Thunder’s most influential players in the win, catching starts and producing 12 points and seven rebounds while shooting 62.5% from the ground and 50% from deep. It was by far his most efficient competition of the summer as he took a big step.

“He’s such a great size and has such a good feeling about how he fits into the game,” Thunder Summer League coach Kam Woods said after the game. “He did a great job just being assertive. That showed tonight and I think he’s been preparing for a performance like this for some time.”

Resting in the second game of the Las Vegas event shouldn’t come as a surprise and is something to be expected. The jump from the NBL to the NBA is a huge physical change for a young player.

Giddey had to go through that last season in his rookie year.

Speaking to Giddey and the advice he’s given to his NBL peers, that’s one thing he’s been vocal about. The NBL is one of the best leagues in the world and has a lot of experience playing grown men, but playing a full 82-game season is quite a leap.

Giddey has been full of praise for Dieng all summer and really enjoys playing with him.

“He was great,” Giddey said in Las Vegas. “I saw him a lot in the NBL last year. he is raw He’s a big, big guy who can handle the ball and is a great creator of shots. He’s a smooth player. I love his game and I love playing with him. It makes my work on the floor much easier.”

Dieng is certainly a project and probably won’t be a very influential player as a rookie. He will need time to develop but it should be worth the wait. He’s best on the ball despite being 6-foot-10. Dieng has the ability to create his own shot and also enable and make plays for his teammates.

There’s a good chance he’ll play some G League roles for OKC Blue next season, but has been included in the lottery nonetheless due to his long-term potential. Additionally, he projects to be a versatile defender capable of defending multiple positions at a high level.

“I think I’m pretty versatile. I can do what the coaches want me to do,” said the French winger when asked to describe his game.

It could be a few years before he’s a high-profile member of the NBA, but that should line up nicely with Oklahoma City’s schedule for grappling. He has plenty of time to develop in the Thunder system and could be a starter one day when they get back to the playoffs.

Paying three first rounds for a guy like Dieng seems risky on the surface, but could pay off later for Presti.

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