Ousmane Dieng

Northwest Notes: Trail Blazers, Mitchell, Topic, Nuggets

The Trail Blazers’ rebuilding process is happening at a fortunate time in light of the NBA’s new restrictive apron provisions, writes Sean Highkin of The Rose Garden Report. With so many young players on the roster, Portland doesn’t face the immediate decisions that other teams have to deal with, but it’s only a matter of time until its recent draft picks become eligible for extensions.

Highkin doesn’t believe the Blazers would have gotten nearly the same return for Damian Lillard if they had waited another year to trade him. Teams are placing a greater value on draft picks and are becoming less willing to gamble on older players with multiple years remaining on expensive contracts. Highkin points to Dejounte Murray, who Atlanta traded for far less than it gave up to acquire him two years ago, along with Trae Young, Brandon Ingram and Zach LaVine, who may all have been dealt by now if the old rules were still in effect.

Highkin also notes that max extensions for rookie scale contracts don’t seem as automatic as they used to be. He states that Orlando’s Paolo Banchero and Oklahoma City’s Chet Holmgren and Jalen Williams appear to be the only “locks” to get those extensions next summer, when Portland will have to decide whether Shaedon Sharpe is worthy of a long-term commitment in excess of $200MM.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Ajay Mitchell‘s Summer League performance showed why the Thunder were willing to trade up to the 38th pick to acquire him, observes Joel Lorenzi of The Oklahoman. The Santa Barbara guard, who recently signed a two-way contract, showed an ability to change speeds and finish around the basket, posting an 11-point, 10-assist double-double early in Las Vegas. First-round pick Dillon Jones displayed “flashes and flaws” in his first Summer League experience, while 2022 lottery pick Ousmane Dieng was held out of the games in Vegas after playing in Salt Lake City.
  • Nikola Topic could turn out to be a steal for the Thunder at No. 12 when he returns next season from his partially torn ACL, Rylan Stiles states in a Sports Illustrated piece. Oklahoma City was willing to wait a year for Topic to get healthy, and he could develop into a lead guard for the second unit.
  • The Nuggets will open their preseason schedule with a pair of games against the Celtics Oct. 4 and 6 in Abu Dhabi, tweets Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports. Denver will host the Suns Oct. 13 and the Thunder Oct. 15 before traveling to face the Timberwolves Oct 18.

And-Ones: France, Japan, FAs, Klutch, West, Wright

Ahead of the 2024 Olympics in Paris, host nation France has announced that two players from its preliminary 19-man roster have been cut (Twitter link): former NBA guard Killian Hayes, who is currently an unrestricted free agent, and Thunder forward Ousmane Dieng.

Neither Hayes nor Dieng have ever suited up for the senior national team, according to Eurohoops, but they did represent their home country at the youth level. The French national team will need to trim its roster down to 12 players from the current 17 before the Olympics begin at the end of July.

Japan recently announced its own 16-man preliminary roster ahead of the Olympics, per Eurohoops. Lakers forward Rui Hachimura headlines the group, which also features Yuta Watanabe. France, Japan, Germany and the winner of the Olympic qualifying tournament in Latvia will comprise Group C of the 12-team tournament.

Here’s more from around the basketball world:

  • John Hollinger of The Athletic ranks the top free agent small forwards and power forwards, respectively. Hollinger’s BORD$ formula rates LeBron James as the top overall free agent regardless of position, with Paul George the top small forward. Free agents can begin negotiating with other teams on June 30.
  • Klutch Sports Group and Rich Paul have been sued in federal court by longtime NBA agent Mark Termini, writes Mark Vorkunov of The Athletic. Termini, a former associate of Klutch, is suing for $4.9MM plus interest for an alleged breach of contract. Termini claims Klutch began paying him less than he was owed as the “lead negotiator” on several contracts from 2018-20. “This lawsuit is inaccurate and misguided,” a Klutch spokesperson said. “And will be addressed in the proper forum.”
  • Virginia prosecutors have dropped a pair of criminal charges — felony drug possession and violation of pretrial conditions — against former NBA guard Delonte West, reports Baxter Holmes of ESPN. The 40-year-old is still facing two other charges (resisting arrest and obstruction of justice) stemming from his arrest earlier this month, according to Holmes, who adds that West is due in court on July 11.
  • The Knicks will soon have four former Villanova Wildcats on their roster, but former Nova coach Jay Wright has no intention of becoming a coach with New York or any other NBA team, he told Zach Braziller of The New York Post.

Northwest Notes: Dieng, Thunder, Wolves, MPJ

Ousmane Dieng could be the missing piece to the Thunder‘s rotation, according to Rylan Stiles of SI.com. Dieng, a 2022 lottery pick, has spent the bulk of his first two NBA seasons in the G League with the Oklahoma City Blue. He appeared in just 33 games with the Thunder this season.

“Like every young player, he has so many things to work on,”  Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. “When we drafted him, he was almost like a year young for that draft. We kind of knew that his timeline and his pathway would maybe be different, certainly from [Jalen Williams] because Dub was somebody coming in that we thought could get on the court sooner. But [Dieng] has responded pretty well. I’m pleased with him. I think he’s made some big strides here.”

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Thunder own the No. 12 pick of the draft via Houston and optimally, they’ll find a way to trade back in what’s considered a weak class, Stiles opines in a separate story. They might be able to add to their stash of future assets and still find a contributor.
  • The Timberwolves’ starting lineup could make a combined $167MM next season, which would push team salary near the luxury tax line for those five players alone. The Wolves must decide whether they can trim salary without sacrificing team quality, but since they’re a serious contender, going well over the tax line for at least a couple of seasons might be worth the cost. Danny Leroux of The Athletic explores what they could do to reduce future obligations, including a potential trade of either Karl-Anthony Towns or Naz Reid.
  • Should the Nuggets consider trading Michael Porter Jr.? The Denver Post’s Bennett Durando explores that topic, noting that all four teams in this year’s conference finals got there with the aid of recent blockbuster deals.

Olympic Notes: France, Australia, Germany, Brazil

Ahead of the 2024 Olympics in Paris, the host nation has announced its preliminary 19-man roster (Twitter link). As Eurohoops relays, the headliners on France’s squad are big men Victor Wembanyama and Rudy Gobert, the top two finishers in this year’s Defensive Player of the Year vote.

However, there are several more notable NBA names on the list, including Nicolas Batum, Evan Fournier, Bilal Coulibaly, and Ousmane Dieng. Other recent NBAers who didn’t finish the 2023/24 season on a roster include Killian Hayes, Frank Ntilikina, and Theo Maledon.

One player not on France’s roster is veteran guard Mike James. The 2023/24 EuroLeague MVP is an American, but according to a report from L’Equipe (hat tip to BasketNews.com), the French Basketball Federation explored the possibility of getting a French passport for James, who has played for AS Monaco in France’s LNB Pro A since 2021. That effort didn’t make any real headway, however.

“We do not have the culture of other nations which use naturalized players in a systematic way,” an unnamed executive told L’Equipe. “But we have a duty to explore all possibilities. In this case, we were asked, we looked at it and quickly established that it was not a question.”

The French national team will have to make seven cuts and set a 12-man roster for this July’s event.

Here are a few more updates related to the 2024 Olympics:

  • The Australian national team has trimmed its preliminary Olympic roster from 22 players to 17, the Boomers announced in a press release. None of the NBA players on the roster – including Josh Giddey, Joe Ingles, Patty Mills, Dante Exum, Matisse Thybulle, and Dyson Daniels, among others – were among the cuts, but potential 2024 first-round pick Johnny Furphy was. The plan is for those 17 Australian players to attend training camp this summer before setting the final 12-man roster.
  • The German national team announced this week that head coach Gordon Herbert won’t continue on in that role after the conclusion of the Paris Olympics (hat tip to Sportando). The two sides are going their separate ways after a fruitful partnership that included a gold medal at the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
  • The Brazilian national team has announced its preliminary roster for this summer’s Olympic qualifying tournament in Latvia. The notable names include veteran point guard Raul Neto, former first-round pick Bruno Caboclo, Warriors rookie Gui Santos, and former NBA guard Didi Louzada. The Brazilians will need to win the six-team qualifier to earn a spot in the Olympic men’s basketball tournament.

Northwest Notes: Thunder, Dieng, Murray, Blazers, Lofton

The Thunder‘s 57-25 record and No. 1 finish in the Western Conference represents an ahead-of-schedule arrival for a team that looked two years ago like it might be rebuilding for a few more seasons, writes Tim Cato of The Athletic. Still, Oklahoma City isn’t doing a victory lap after going from 24 wins in 2021/22 to 40 last season to 57 this year.

“When we wake up Tuesday morning, we’re 0-0,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said on Sunday. “It’s a new season. Everything that we did in the regular season doesn’t matter except opponent and seeding. … We’ll go into it with great respect for our opponents, but great respect for ourselves.”

While the Thunder prepare for their first playoff series since 2020, the team’s G League affiliate – the Oklahoma City Blue – won its first ever championship on Monday, closing out the Maine Celtics in Game 3 of their best-of-three series (story).

As Cato points out, the Thunder’s entire starting lineup consists of players aged 25 or younger, but not all of the team’s recent lottery picks are playing major roles at the NBA level. Ousmane Dieng, the 11th overall pick in 2022, played limited minutes in just 33 games for the Thunder this season, but he helped the Blue secure its NBAGL title on Monday, earning Finals MVP honors by putting up 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting to go along with six rebounds, four assists, and two blocks in the deciding game.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Speaking to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, Nuggets guard Jamal Murray explained why he wants to spend his entire career in Denver, how he feels about not having made an All-Star team, and why he thinks he and Nikola Jokic are the best duo in the NBA. “I think (other duos are) in a bigger market and people have more interest in LeBron and AD in L.A., or what Dame and Giannis could be, or what Luka and Kyrie could do,” Murray said. “If we’re talking about the best duos in getting the job done and how they play for each other and with each other, I think me and Jokic are undoubtedly number one.”
  • Bill Oram of The Oregonian (subscriber link) looks ahead at some of the difficult decisions facing the Trail Blazers this offseason, including whether the front office wants to push for a play-in spot in 2024/25 or rebuild slowly and seek another high draft pick. If Portland takes the latter route, the club may need to look into moving some veterans, including perhaps Anfernee Simons, Oram suggests. Blazers management will also have to make sure it’s on the same page as head coach Chauncey Billups, Oram adds, given that he has talked about wanting to get the club back to the playoffs next season.
  • Kenneth Lofton Jr.‘s play down the stretch was a bright spot for the Jazz, writes Riley Gisseman of The Salt Lake Tribune. Lofton averaged 16.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 6.3 assists off the bench in the final three games, making a strong case for a spot on next season’s roster. Lofton’s deal with Utah includes non-guaranteed salaries for two seasons after this one, so if he continues to show promise, the team is in position to retain him on the cheap.

Thunder Notes: SGA, J-Dub, Dort, Dieng, Daigneault

Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will miss his third straight game on Friday in Indiana due to a right quad contusion, tweets Rylan Stiles of Inside The Thunder.

Head coach Mark Daigneault said the MVP candidate was sent back to Oklahoma City on Thursday and he’ll also miss Sunday’s game in Charlotte, which is the finale of a four-game road trip, per Joel Lorenzi of The Oklahoman (Twitter link).

We need to make sure he doesn’t decondition during this time and gym access on the road is much more difficult to come by,” Daigneault said.

Second-year guard/forward Jalen Williams will also miss his third straight contest on Friday due to a left ankle sprain. He was initially listed as doubtful.

Here’s more on the Thunder:

  • In an interesting story for The Athletic, Fred Katz examines Luguentz Dort‘s defensive impact for OKC, describing how the 24-year-old has added layers of complexity to the way he approaches many aspects of the less glamorous end of the court, including certain “quirks” he uses to throw star players off-balance. According to Katz, Dort has spent more time guarding the opposing teams’ highest-usage player than anyone in the NBA. “We can shift him anywhere,” Daigneault told The Athletic. “He can guard any player. There’s no one he can’t guard.”
  • He hasn’t played much at the NBA level in 2023/24, averaging just 11.0 MPG in 31 appearances, but second-year forward Ousmane Dieng has been more assertive this season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s NBAGL affiliate, Stiles writes for Inside The Thunder. Dieng, the No. 11 pick of the 2022 draft, hit a game-winner in the first round of the G League playoffs, eliminating the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Houston’s affiliate.
  • Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle expects Daigneault to be one of the frontrunners for the Coach of the Year award in ’23/24, tweets Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. They’ve drafted with the idea that positionless basketball is the future and there’s a lot of evidence that is the case,” Carlisle said. The second-youngest team in the NBA, the Thunder won 40 games last season and already have 54 in ’23/24 with six games remaining in the regular season.

Thunder Notes: Dieng, Hayward, Daigneault, SGA

Second-year Thunder lottery pick Ousmane Dieng is rounding into form with the club’s NBAGL affiliate club, the Oklahoma City Blue, writes Joel Lorenzi of The Oklahoman.

Dieng’s three-point shooting, in particular, seems to have stabilized across his last eight contests with the club. He is connecting on 41.5% of his 5.1 three-point attempts per night.

All told, Dieng is averaging 16.1 PPG, 7.6 RPG and 5.3 APG in his appearances with the Blue. As Lorenzi notes, the No. 11 pick in the 2022 draft fits the mold of a player who could shore up the wing depth on the Thunder’s roster in future seasons if the team decides he’s ready for a larger role at the NBA level.

There’s more out of Oklahoma City:

  • Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault is happy with the play of veteran forward Gordon Hayward, acquired from the Hornets at this year’s trade deadline, per Ryan Stiles of Inside The Thunder (Twitter video link). “His conditioning looks fine. I think he’s kind of got a steady energy on the floor,” Daigneault said. “And he’s done a good job in the system, he’s done a good job of being additive without being [overly] aggressive.”
  • All-NBA Thunder point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continues to look like a bona fide MVP candidate late into the 2023/24 season, writes Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca. At present, it appears to be a two-man race for the award, between Gilgeous-Alexander and two-time Nuggets MVP center Nikola Jokic. “For sure (winning MVP) would be up there (as a personal goal),” Gilgeous-Alexander told Grange last month. “I think for every basketball player, it is. Obviously, I’m not naive, I can hear (the talk), but right now I channel it out and I try to focus on the day in, day out. It’s what got me to this point. I’d be stupid to focus on anything else.” In 68 games this season for the West’s top-seeded Thunder, Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 30.8 PPG on .542/.372/.873 shooting splits, 6.4 APG, 5.6 RPG, 2.1 SPG and 0.9 BPG.
  • In case you missed it, wing Josh Giddey is making an effort to make rival defenses for sagging off of him and focusing on other players.

Northwest Notes: KCP, Porter Jr., Jazz, Thunder

Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has set a goal of making the All-Defensive Team, The Denver Post’s Bennett Durando writes.

“I feel like I’ve been snubbed a couple years from that. Or even just being mentioned,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve even been mentioned in that category, and now it’s a goal this year. I’ll make some noise, so they can’t ignore me.”

Coach Michael Malone typically assigns KCP to guard the opponent’s top guard. He already held Desmond Bane and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to poor shooting performances this season.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Speaking of the Nuggets and defense, Malone awarded Michael Porter Jr. with the team’s defensive player of the game “chain” for the way he blanketed Luka Doncic on Friday, Harrison Wind of TheDNVR.com relays. “Part of it is experience,” he said. “Playing against certain players, just being out there on the floor more over the years, you naturally get better. Part of it has to do with how I feel physically. My ankle doesn’t feel 100%, but I’ve kind of figured out how I should be playing guys on defense in ISO situations. And that’s not crowding them. It’s using my length. I think it’s just something you get better with over time.”
  • The Jazz have the league’s worst half-court defense in the early going and the Salt Lake Tribune’s Andy Larsen opines that the players simply aren’t taking enough pride at that end of the floor. The Jazz allowed 123 points in just 95 Minnesota possessions on Saturday. “We’ve got way too many moments where we’re not doing a good job on the ball. We’re not doing a very good job with secondary defenders. The activity has been pretty lackluster in general,” coach Will Hardy said.
  • The Thunder assigned Ousmane Dieng, Aleksej Pokusevski and Tre Mann to the G League’s Oklahoma City Blue. According to Thunder beat writer Brett Dawson (Twitter link), the Blue held a scrimmage on Sunday and it allowed that trio to get in some five-on-five work.

Thunder Exercise 2024/25 Team Options On Five Players

The Thunder have exercised their rookie scale team options for the 2024/25 season on five players, the team announced today in a press release. Those options are as follows:

Most of these decisions were no-brainers. Holmgren, Giddey, and Williams project as long-term building blocks for the franchise. Dieng didn’t have a major role as a rookie but is only a year removed from being selected 11th overall in the 2022 draft.

The most noteworthy option pick-up of the bunch is Mann’s. The 22-year-old guard had a promising rookie season in 2021/22, averaging 10.4 points per game with a .360 3PT%, but saw his scoring average (7.7 PPG) and 3PT% (.315) dip last season as his playing time was cut back, from 22.8 minutes per game to 17.7 MPG.

Given the Thunder’s roster crunch this offseason, Mann looked like a candidate to be one of the odd men out, but today’s decision signals that the club has no plans to waive him. That leaves Jack White, whose 2023/24 salary is only partially guaranteed for $600K, as perhaps the most likely release candidate on the roster, though the club could go in another direction. Oklahoma City previously traded Victor Oladipo and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl to get down from 18 players on standard contracts to 16.

Giddey and Mann will now become eligible for rookie scale extensions next July, while the Thunder will have to decide by next October 31 whether to exercise their fourth-year options on Holmgren, Dieng, and Williams.

Thunder Notes: Williams, Micic, Dort

Thunder reserve big man Jaylin Williams will miss some early regular season games due a hamstring strain suffered in practice, Brett Dawson tweets. Williams will be reevaluated in a couple of weeks.

Williams projects as Chet Holmgren‘s backup this season after starting 36 of 49 games last season during his rookie campaign. A second-round pick in 2022, Williams averaged 5.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 18.7 minutes.

Olivier Sarr and Ousmane Dieng could see more action until Williams returns.

We have more on the Thunder:

  • Vasilije Micic has noticed some major differences between the EuroLeague and NBA, as Eurohoops.net relays. “It’s open space, with a much higher pace of play compared to the EuroLeague,” he said. “The paint is more open, providing a lot of opportunities for creative players to penetrate and gain an advantage, especially for skilled ball handlers. It’s also a bit easier to create from that spacing. I’m still trying to adjust. Everything is still new for me, but my teammates are helping me learn as quickly as possible. I believe that, together, we will get there eventually.” The former EuroLeague MVP signed a three-year, $23.5MM contract with Oklahoma City in July.
  • Luguentz Dort scored a team-high 24 points during the team’s exhibition game Thursday in Montreal. It was an emotional homecoming for the Montreal native, he told Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. He spoke in French to the crowd prior to the contest. “I just told them that we were honored to be here,” Dort said, “As a Montreal guy, it was an honor for me to bring my team here and play in front of them.”
  • Get all the details on the big Thunder-Rockets trade here.