When Ted Leonsis said there would be an increased emphasis on player development in his list of 101 Things (action item No. 29), specifically involving the D-League, Wizards followers gave a collective ‘We’ll believe it when we see it.’ Not so much in doubt of Leonsis’ words, but more so because they’ve been conditioned under the tenure of team president Ernie Grunfeld that development and building for the future was paid more of a whimsical, cursory attention, as the franchise’s number one team builder always seemed instructed to focus on winning in the now.
Not that Grunfeld and his team did not pay attention to the scouting and the draft, but rather, for a myriad excuses one could presumably always find (see: the Wizards’ D-League affiliate, the Wizards, being in Bismarck, North Dakota and/or supplying said team with players to develop wouldn’t best jibe with the intricate offensive system that past coach Eddie Jordan was trying to instruct). Essentially, the D-League has never been worth Grunfeld’s time, warranted or not, aside from sending down the likes of Peter John Ramos or Andray Blatche for a spell in the earlier days (2005-06), and when the affiliate franchise was much closer in Roanoke, Virginia (the Dazzle), or during last season when a franchise in flux was interested in taking a gander at cheap labor while likely appeasing the desires of league higher-ups to use the development league for it’s true intent.
In any case, upon surely leaving out detail on the past unknown team development protocol that will only be known to organization insiders, ideals toward positive future development efforts changed when 2010 draft pick (No. 56 overall) Hamady N’Diaye was assigned to the Dakota Wizards on January 5. But such a path to the basketball enlightenment for the one called “H” almost didn’t happen. Unsigned in the days leading up to training camp, sentiment from the team indicated that they’d rather N’Diaye take his talents overseas for a year or two, something those on the player’s side didn’t seem amicable toward. Rather than lose his rights completely, the Wizards ended up extending a contract tender to N’Diaye and ultimately signed him to the team for training camp and into the season. Now, after a taste of life in the big leagues, just a taste, Hamady works on his very raw skills in the landscape of bus rides and meager per diems.
In steps Joey Whelan.
Whelan covers the D-League’s Dakota Wizards for KFYR-TV in Bismark. You can find him at his blog, Wizards Watch, as well as on Twitter, @JoeyWhelan. He has also contributed to multiple basketball sites on the world wide web. Now, Whelan is here with a guest piece for Truth About It.net, catching us up on the development of the uber-personable N’diaye on his road in the D-League. Enjoy.
Checking In On “H”
by Joey Whelan
The assignment of an NBA player to the D-League is always cause for excitement amongst affiliate teams – particularly those that receive as little attention from parent clubs as the Dakota Wizards. So when it was announced that rookie center Hamady N’Diaye would be spending some time wearing the purple in Bismarck it generated a fair amount of excitement from within the organization. The irony of course being that as much as H’s presence was an overall positive to the club, he in no way addresses any of the glaring issues for Dakota, a struggling offensive team in dire need of a play-making point guard and perimeter shooting. But beggars can’t always be choosers, so N’Diaye was welcomed to the D-League with open arms and in less than two weeks time has made a remarkably positive impression on those working closest with him.
The first thing to keep in mind with N’Diaye is that he is very much still adjusting to the pro game, averaging 18 minutes coming off the bench in seven games with Dakota — this following just 12 total minutes of action in his time spent with Washington. So despite the NBA and D-League both nearing the midway points of their respective schedules, the big man out of Rutgers is in many ways just starting his own season. With that said, the handful of games he has played in at the D-League level has only served to reinforce much of what we already know about the 7-footer, while giving hints of what may be ahead for a youngster who has only been playing basketball for six years.
Physically N’Diaye sets himself apart from almost any other frontcourt player in the D-League, possessing a unique blend of size, strength and athleticism. He runs the floor exceptionally well for a player his size, moves well in half court sets defensively (something we’ll get into more later) and has the necessary strength in his upper body to prevent other post players from establishing comfortable position on the block, something he displayed to a great degree at the D-League Showcase earlier in January when guarding Oklahoma City rookie Cole Aldrich.
There have been minimal developments in his offensive game since college — again, due in large part to a lack of playing time to this point — with his post game remaining very underdeveloped. N’Diaye does a good job of establishing position on the block and holding it, but once he receives the ball, he struggles to create viable scoring opportunities. The biggest issues facing him right now are ball handling and his hands, both leave a lot to be desired. In many instances during his stint with Dakota, he has struggled to catch passes from teammates attacking off the dribble who manage to draw additional defenders. His current scoring average (2.9 ppg) would easily be doubled if N’Diaye managed to hold on to one or two additional passes per game. With that said, when he has caught the ball in the immediate area surrounding the rim, be it on dump-offs or as a result of hitting the offensive glass, N’Diaye has proven to be a strong finisher, wasting little time and movement with the ball, simply exploding to the rim. This aggressive manner resulted in 14 free throw attempts in his two games at the Showcase, but in the three games since. he has not been to the line once, mostly due to a lack of touches (just five field goal attempts in those three games).
Defense is where N’Diaye has shown the most potential and where his NBA future ultimately lies. A revered shot blocker in college, he has continued to be a shot altering threat at the pro level, managing nearly three blocks per game in his 18 minutes with Dakota, including nine blocks in his two most recent games facing the Idaho Stampede. He is equally effective blocking shots in the post and as a weakside defender, utilizing his length and leaping ability in impressive fashion. With that said, he is still developing his timing, often biting on head and ball fakes which has resulted in a pretty high rate of picking up fouls — N’Diaye has accumulated at least four fouls in four of his last five games.
He shows a great deal of upside as a center who can defend outside the immediate area around the basket and on the block. His length and lateral quickness (above average for big man) allow him to defend the pick and roll as well as the high post with a solid rate of success at this time. Particularly in Dakota’s two games with Idaho, N’Diaye showed no hesitation stepping outside the lane to cover forward Jermareo Davidson in face up situations. While Davidson is hardly an elite face-up big man, the fact that N’Diaye willingly dropped into a defensive stance some 15 feet from the rim has to be taken as an encouraging sign. It is, however, fairly obvious he is still developing his feel for defending the pick and roll, something he did not see nearly as often in college. His physical attributes as mentioned make him an ideal defender in these scenarios, but he struggles right now in reading the play and deciding when to retreat to cover the screener. There have been just as many plays resulting in N’Diaye hedging and breaking up the possession as there have been the rookie getting burned when his man slips the screen. Given his well documented work ethic, this is something he will no doubt improve upon with time and experience.
The best thing to say about N’Diaye’s assignment thus far is his tremendous hustle and team-first nature. He is very vocal on defense and is equally as talkative on the bench, constantly shouting out opposing player movement while providing a steady stream of encouragement to teammates. His amiable personality has made him a favorite of both players and coaches, both groups that have been impressed with the rookie. His tireless hustle and motor will also be paramount to his success in the NBA. Watching N’Diaye now is akin to watching a gifted high school player who, while physically superior to many of his peers, is just learning to play the game of basketball.
Looking long term, N’Diaye has the potential to one day be called a major steal for Washington as a former 56th overall pick. While his offensive game may never consist of more than finishing looks around the rim and being active on the glass, N’Diaye has the potential to be a major contributor off the bench as a defensive specialist. Pulling an athletic 7-footer who can defend, rebound, block shots and run the floor well for easy scoring opportunities could be quite a find from the final five picks of the draft. With time, N’Diaye can be an NBA level player.