For many NBA players, when they first come into the league they have certain things they want improve upon. They’ve identified specific goals they want to achieve as a rookie.

But for Moussa Diabate, there isn’t any one thing that stands out to him in terms of what he’s focusing on. As he wraps up his rookie season with the Los Angeles Clippers, all he wants to be able to say is that he took one step forward.

“For me, there’s not like a specific thing really where I’m like okay, I got to get better at this,” Diabate told 213 Hoops. “It’s mostly just overall, just to be like okay I took a step, I took a step forward.”

Coming into the season, it was already a given that Diabate was not going to see major minutes. The Clippers had a veteran-heavy rotation and championship aspirations. Enter the G League.

In recent seasons, the Clippers have been one of the teams in the league who have used the G League extensively. When Terance Mann was a rookie he spent time with the then Agua Caliente Clippers (now renamed the Ontario Clippers). Amir Coffey cut his teeth in Ontario before earning a regular NBA contract. Brandon Boston Jr. and Jason Preston have had big performances in the G League as well.

This season has been Diabate’s turn. In 18 games for Ontario Diabate has averaged 15.9 points per game, 12.4 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.1 blocked shots while shooting 54.2 percent from the field. He’s had the opportunity to get valuable game reps rather than just sit on the bench.

“It’s amazing, I think it’s a great opportunity to get better especially for young players that don’t get much time in the NBA,” Diabate said. “It’s been great, it’s been amazing. I was able to showcase a lot more than what I do over here with the big team. It’s a blessing and it’s a great opportunity.”

Diabate has had some limited opportunities with the Clippers this season where he flashed some brief potential. Back on Nov. 30 against the Utah Jazz he put up 11 points and eight rebounds. On Dec. 15 against the Phoenix Suns he had eight points and eight rebounds. On Jan. 29 he nabbed 13 points and five boards against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

He’s a mobile big man with a high motor. He’s shown a knack for grabbing rebounds and a nice touch around the basket. His skill-set is something the Clippers actually could have used prior to their trade deadline deals.

Diabate knows though that as a young player the key to earning regular minutes is not his entire skill-set, but by focusing on one key aspect and perfecting that skill.

“As of right now, I’m part of the young faces. We need to be focused on one thing, one or two things,” Diabate said. “For me it’s defense and energy. My energy on defense and rebounding. Me just playing hard and going up and down the floor.”

Diabate spent only one season playing college basketball at Michigan under a former NBA All-Star big man in Juwan Howard. He started in 26 games of the 32 he played and put up 9.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 54.2 percent from the field.

He declared for the NBA draft after his freshman year and decided to keep his name in the draft. Although he was raw, the Clippers saw enough potential there to draft him in the second round. Diabate credits Howard with instilling an NBA mindset in him and preparing him enough that he felt like he was ready for the league.

“He was amazing, Coach Juwan he played in the NBA and had a lot of experience. We were running like NBA players already and making NBA play calls already,” Diabate said. “That was preparing me. Everything from paying attention to the detail, to the amount of work and the amount of time watching film. Everything was purposely made for us to be ready for that stage.”

With the Clippers heading into their first round series against the Phoenix Suns, Diabate will get his first look at the NBA playoffs, albeit from the bench. It’s valuable experience though to get to see how star players like Kawhi Leonard prepare for the postseason.

No matter what happens in the playoffs, when the Clippers open summer league in Las Vegas in July, Diabate will definitely be there. That’s likely the next time he sees meaningful on court minutes. But until then, he’ll be soaking up everything he can. He’ll be observing everything he can.

And thanks to Howard, the transition to the NBA game hasn’t been quite as hard as Diabate maybe anticipated.

“I will say that it wasn’t really like as big as I thought. I think it’s mostly understanding the game, that’s mostly what it is,” Diabate said. “There’s so much more spacing, the game is so much faster too. You really got to understand what you’re doing and really pay attention to the details. I would say it’s mostly just understanding the game.”

David Yapkowitz

David Yapkowitz

David is in his sixth season as credentialed media at Los Angeles Clippers games and second season covering the team for 213 Hoops. He also covers the game at the college and high school levels. When his professional basketball dreams did not materialize, he turned to the next best thing, writing about it.

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