LA Clippers rookie Moussa Diabate is making a real bid for NBA minutes
After being selected 43rd overall by the LA Clippers earlier this year, 20-year-old Moussa Diabate signed a two-way contract that would allow him to spend time in both the G-League and the NBA. While most two-way players do not see much time in the NBA, especially those selected in the second round by contenders, there seemed to be a potential path to minutes with the Clippers for Diabate.
While NBA minutes were never expected to be imminent for Diabate, the Clippers decided to enter the 2022-23 season without an established backup center – a position Diabate’s skillset fits perfectly. Listed at 6’11” with a 7’3″ wingspan, Diabate’s length meets the position’s requirements, but it’s his unique athleticism that projects to separate him from others at the center spot.
The ability to guard the perimeter is something that has become increasingly valuable amongst modern bigs, as the NBA continues leaning further into five-out lineups. While some teams rely on small-ball more than others, some iteration of a five-out group seems to make a nightly appearance for nearly every team across the league. Without someone at the five who can counter that defensively, it becomes incredibly tough to guard.
Touted for his switch-ability on draft night, Moussa Diabate has proven to be a capable defender both around the basket and on the perimeter. Dominant on that end in the G-League, Diabate recently proved his game translates to the NBA as well.
Given an opportunity to play his first rotational minutes of the season on Tuesday night vs. the Portland Trail Blazers, Diabate showed why so many are high on his ability to contribute at the NBA level. Subbing in right before the fourth quarter, Diabate played the entire final frame, and was a +19 in a game the Clippers won by six.
After the game, Ty Lue said, “Moussa came in the fourth quarter and gave us energy and that switch-ability guarding positions one through five. His energy is infectious for our team and the things he gives us: switching, blocked shots, rebounding the basketball, big tip-ins, and big free throws.”
After helping lead a comeback effort vs. the Trail Blazers on Tuesday, Diabate was given a similar opportunity vs. the Utah Jazz on Wednesday. While the comeback effort fell short this time, Diabate again had a positive impact, making a real bid for consistent minutes even once the Clippers get healthy.
When asked on Friday morning about the plan for Diabate going forward, coach Lue said, “Continue to keep working. Giving him an opportunity, we know what he brings every night with the switching, rolling to the basket, offensive rebounds. Just his energy, running the floor, he does a lot. Continue to keep developing in the G-League, continue to keep giving him opportunities up here. And then we’ll see going forward.”
While Lue noted that Diabate will continue to receive playing time in the G-League, he added that the young center will also continue to get opportunities with the big club. When asked if this will happen even once the team gets fully healthy, Lue said, “Yeah, I believe so.”
Sources have told AllClippers that Diabate will be available for Saturday’s game vs. the Sacramento Kings, and then rejoin the G-League team when they play in Oklahoma City on Sunday. While unexpected circumstances could alter that course of action, sources have confirmed that is the current plan for Diabate.
As for the upcoming four-game road trip that begins on Monday for the Clippers, it happens to parallel a four-game road trip for the Ontario Clippers as well. Sources have told AllClippers that the team currently plans for Diabate to play with the Ontario Clippers on this trip, as they value his consistent development in the G-League over limited minutes in the NBA. That said, the team is actively eyeing upcoming opportunities for Diabate at the NBA level, which will ultimately determine when he rejoins the big club. As Ty Lue said, those opportunities are indeed coming.
While there is a strong case for Diabate to simply remain at the NBA level as the team’s backup center, the Clippers are placing high value on his consistency and confidence. With Ivica Zubac playing a career-high 30.7 minutes per game, and the Clippers regularly incorporating small-ball groups, true backup center minutes are limited. While they do exist, and are important, sources say the Clippers currently prefer for Diabate to receive consistent playing time in the G-League for his development and confidence, as opposed to limited minutes at the NBA level.
With how impactful he was in the last two games, it is easy to see how Diabate could significantly help this Clippers team, which is why he is no longer viewed as just an emergency option. The team is eyeing future opportunities for him at the NBA level, as Ty Lue suggested on Friday morning, but they also value his short and long term development, which is benefited by his current 31.0 minutes per game in the G-League.
When asked on Friday about his recent call-up, Diabate said, “I felt ready. That’s what I practice for. Just be ready when my time is called. It’s just been a blessing, really. Outside of that, just grateful for the opportunity.”
On the pressure of playing in crucial fourth quarter minutes, Diabate said, “To be honest, I ain’t gonna lie to you, I didn’t really think about it. I was in the fourth quarter, but I was really just in the moment trying to win… It was just, let’s keep playing until they tell me to get out. Just stay ready, play as hard as I can, and give everything I have.”
That call to leave the game never came for Diabate, as he played the entire fourth quarter, and was a major reason the Clippers came back and won. That performance left an impression on the organization, making their management of Diabate’s two-way contract more difficult. While he has proven an ability to contribute at the NBA level, specifically in a position of need for the Clippers, he’s also just 20-years-old with only nine G-League games under his belt. For that reason, the Clippers will continue valuing his consistent development in the G-League after Saturday’s game vs. Sacramento, but more opportunities at the NBA level are indeed on the horizon for Moussa Diabate.