Our 2022-2023 player season preview series continues with Moussa Diabate, the Clippers’ only pick in the 2022 draft.
Weight: 220 pounds
Position: Center/Power Forward
Years in NBA: Rookie
Key Stats at Michigan: 9.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 0.8 assists, and 0.9 blocks in 24.9 minutes per game across 32 games (26 starts) on 54.2% shooting from the field and 61.9% from the line.
Contract Status: Two-way contract for this year and probably next year
Moussa Diabate was the 43rd pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, and the Clippers’ only selection on draft night. Just 20 years old, Moussa is more of a long-term, raw prospect. He played just one year of college basketball, and while he played a decent amount in a strong conference, his numbers don’t pop off the page. Despite all that, as of this writing, Moussa Diabate is the only other true big man on the Clippers’ roster outside of Ivica Zubac with guaranteed money for the 2023 season. Even if the Clippers go small at backup center with Robert Covington and Nicolas Batum, there will be games where one of those guys is out, or when Zu is out, that will probably mean Moussa gets minutes.
Now, the Clippers could bring another big man onto the team with the 15th roster spot, or with a second two-way deal, but until then, expectations for Moussa are that when his number is called, he’ll provide energy and a very base level of competency.
Moussa’s biggest strength as a prospect and probably at the NBA level is his motor. This may sound dismissive “he has no skill, he just plays hard”, but one, playing hard all the time is a skill in and of itself, and second, motor translates to more than just effort. Moussa is always playing hard, whether it be closing on three-point shooters, chasing down rebounds, and diving for loose balls. That sheer energy translates to little things in winning basketball games, is contagious, and can provide a jolt for teams like the Clippers that are older and less athletic. And, more importantly, energy is always valuable, whether it be in a random January game or in a close playoff contest.
Relatedly, Moussa is a plus athlete. For his size, he has great straight-line speed and is also fairly quick laterally in defending on the perimeter. While a bit undersized as a rim protector, he has the broad outlines of a big man who can switch on the perimeter as well as block shots around the basket – extraordinarily valuable in today’s NBA. That speed and leaping ability should also translate to dunks in transition, which will be nice alongside a speed demon like John Wall.
In the halfcourt, Moussa’s value will lie primarily in offensive rebounding. His size, motor, and athleticism all result in him collecting offensive boards at a high level. That will be more difficult against larger, stronger, and more athletic NBA players, but Moussa should still be able to help out the Clippers in that area.
Moussa is extremely raw in nearly all aspects of the game. That is very, very difficult for a championship-contending team like the Clippers to deal with in more than miniscule doses. The Clippers will want steady competency across their roster, and it seems unlikely that Moussa can provide that his rookie season. On offense, Moussa’s jump shot is a work in progress (to put it delicately). He can roll to the rim, but his processing of the game is slow, meaning he can rarely make playmaking reads in the short roll – if he gets it, he’s going up with it. On defense, Moussa is overactive; he jumps at nearly every ball fake, leading to fouls and easy buckets. He can also be slow at rotating and reading the offense, resulting in breakdowns. In short, while Moussa has raw talent, it’s an open question whether he can do much at an NBA level right now outside of play hard and run in transition.
Moussa is a very interesting rookie who might not play much for the Clippers, or could have a larger impact on the season than expected of someone in his position. Regardless, he should be fun to watch in the NBA in limited minutes and in the G-League, and will hopefully develop into someone the Clippers keep around for a while.