After watching the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder go toe-to-toe on opening night in Oracle Arena, the future is encouraging if you’re a fan of the team in orange and blue.
Although it was a losing effort, the Russell Westbrook-less Thunder showed tremendous fight against the defending champion and all-time great Warriors team on the night of their NBA championship ring dedication ceremony.
‘Fight’ is a word that sticks out when describing the way OKC played on Tuesday night and that attribute seems to be a part of Hamidou Diallo’s overall personality on-and-off the court.
Diallo has a bit of that cut-throat Westbrook DNA in his personality and the last time the Thunder took a chance on a personality like that, they got an MVP and seven-time NBA All-Star out of it.
The potential second-round steal out of the University of Kentucky has all the early signs of being something special and it all starts with his confidence on the court. Although the starting shooting guard position should belong to Alex Abrines until Andre Roberson’s return, Diallo isn’t that far behind, at all. Certainly, his play throughout the preseason, training camp and opening night warrants some serious consideration for increased playing time, which Billy Donovan did grant him Tuesday night, but with the way Terrance Ferguson is playing, Diallo deserves a shot at his minutes until further notice.
Ferguson doesn’t display confidence on the court anymore.
Ferguson is a highly capable player. As an incoming rookie almost exactly a year ago, scouts swaggered his athletic ability and overall capability as an NBA player after just one season playing professionally in Australia after high school. There were times throughout last season where he demonstrated flashes of said ability, where he would step up in big-time minutes against big-time opponents. What’s concerning is the inconsistency, playing hesitantly just as often as he displayed that positive potential. It was nearly a 50/50 split until the Thunder reached the final stretch of the season, with Roberson sidelined for the remainder. It was clear that the stage was too big for him at the time.
Five months and another full training camp later, Ferguson still doesn’t look comfortable with the ball or on defense, which isn’t a redeeming trait for a shooting guard. There are players that skill-wise, aren’t ready to be in Ferg’s shoes, but he does have the skill. But once again, his timid play shined through Tuesday night on the largest regular-season stage he’ll play on this year. It was clear as day how uncomfortable he was on the court.
For the 27 minutes Ferguson saw the floor, he only attempted two shots, which he missed. Shooting is something that he, in particular, didn’t struggle with this time last year. His shots may have not been falling at a high clip, but he continuously shot them confidently. Now, he appears to be the complete opposite.
In a way, Ferguson resembles Roberson during his first and second year; scared to touch the ball, and a capable defender but too timid to go out on an island and confidently defend whoever.
Diallo plays with supreme confidence, despite his inexperience.
Diallo looks like Ferguson from a year ago, just eager to be out there with just enough ‘nothing to lose’ mentality to succeed. The only noticeable difference is that Diallo plays a little more physical and his demeanor is vastly different than Ferg’s.
In a postgame interview after OKC’s last preseason game, Diallo stood confidently in front of the marker board in the Thunder home locker room to answer interview questions from a pack of reporters. Take note: this is the same marker board that Westbrook still seems very uncomfortable talking in front of. Diallo seemed very comfortable, answering questions unphased like he’s been interviewed by NBA media multiple times before.
A specific example of his self-confidence and comfort came after a reporter asked him if he’s been ‘working’ on it (his shot). Diallo quickly and unemotionally replied, “all I do is work,” and turned to the next reporter. Although you can’t take much from five words, it’s impressive seeing a rookie, not even an official game into his professional career answer questions as confidently as he did.
Diallo’s full postgame after OKC’s last preseason game.
After thinking long and hard about it, Diallo has a bit of that cut-throat Westbrook DNA in his personality and the last time the Thunder took a chance on a personality like that, they got an MVP and seven-time NBA All-Star out of it.
In no way is this about Ferguson not being a fit NBA player or being undeserving of an NBA roster spot but until he displays that same confidence he displayed through portions of last season, it’s crystal clear who needs those 27 minutes per game while Roberson works his way back into the starting lineup.