To start the year, five-star shooting guard Hamidou Diallo looked like the athletic freak of nature we thought he’d be when he signed with Kentucky last January.
He scored at least 14 points in three consecutive games, and then had a scorching run at the end of November and through the month of December where he averaged 18.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, and nearly two assists per game.
Diallo was able to attack the basket and earn points at the rim at will. Even when his jump shot wasn’t falling, and it did on a few occasions, he was able to impact the game in a variety of ways. His intensity was high on defense, and it often led to points in transition.
Just looking at his highlight tape from that stretch of games, you can tell the team looked completely different when Diallo’s intensity was up:
From that hot stretch on, however, Diallo has been a completely different player, and it has resulted in ugly play from the Wildcats and, ultimately, losses.
Since conference play began back on New Year’s Eve, Diallo is averaging just eight points on 31% shooting, 3.5 rebounds, and one assist, to go with 1.5 turnovers per game. He has zero confidence on his jump shot, and he refuses to attack the basket like he used to. Even on the few fast break opportunities he has had, Diallo hasn’t been able to lift off like we saw to start the year, and it has ended with offensive fouls, blocked shots, or missed layups. His basketball IQ has always been a work in progress, but it hasn’t improved like we’ve seen with other talented freshmen in the past.
Worst of all, we’ve seen Diallo argue with teammates and coaches on the bench, even getting into it with John Calipari on multiple occasions.
Just last night, Diallo committed a petty foul, and immediately yelled at Quade Green like it had something to do with his actions. His accountability when things go wrong has always been a big question mark, but the finger pointing has dramatically increased as of late.
He was a no-show in the first half last night against Texas A&M, but hit some big shots in the second when no one else could get anything going. And then the critical mistakes resurfaced, making the Jekkyl and Hyde performances we’ve come to love come full circle yet again.
Calipari has reduced his minutes as conference play has progressed, with a career-low 13 minutes coming against Tennessee, but the team hasn’t necessarily taken a step up with Diallo on the bench. They’re still missing the easy buckets the athletic guard used to provide, and his length on defense in crunch time moments like we saw in the second half against West Virginia would be massive in longer stretches.
Do they play him and hope he finds the competitive edge we saw to start the year? Back then, he was undeniably one of the best players on the floor and could truly dominate the game when he wanted to. Or do they try to bring him off the bench to let Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Quade Green provide an immediate scoring spark to start the games? Does it put a chip on Diallo’s shoulder?
The Cats are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to their talented shooting guard, and they’re running out of time to find an answer.