NBA draft: Michigan's Moussa Diabate a surprise pick by LA Clippers in second round

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Last October, when center Hunter Dickinson was named preseason All-Big Ten and voiced his intention to leave Michigan basketball after his sophomore year, the idea that another member of the Wolverines' frontcourt would be the program’s lone big man turning pro seemed farfetched.

But the unexpected became unimpeachable Thursday when freshman power forward/center Moussa Diabate’s name was called during the 2022 NBA draft. Diabate, who spent one year with the Wolverines, was selected by the Los Angeles Clippers with the 43rd overall pick in the second round.

More: Why Moussa Diabate and Caleb Houstan stayed in the NBA draft

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He is the third Michigan player to be drafted in the second round over the past 10 years, joining Isaiah Livers, Ignas Brazdeikis and Glenn Robinson.

Diabate’s teammate — fellow freshman Caleb Houstan — was taken earlier in the evening by the Orlando Magic with the 32nd overall pick.

Michigan forward Moussa Diabate celebrates after scoring against Nebraska during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, in Ann Arbor, Mich. Michigan won 85-79.
Michigan forward Moussa Diabate celebrates after scoring against Nebraska during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, in Ann Arbor, Mich. Michigan won 85-79.

Diabate's selection is a surprise given his near-universal slippage on mock drafts in recent weeks, most of which removed him from their boards. Diabate tested well at the NBA combine in May in Chicago, yet produced modest results during a pair of scrimmages in front of scouts and executives. The consensus among league sources who spoke to the Free Press this spring was Diabate had the athleticism to compete at the next level, but would need significant development on the offensive end of the floor, where his game remains limited.

Diabate became a valuable defensive chess piece for coach Juwan Howard because of his ability to guard multiple positions — a skill he’ll rely on in the NBA. The bulk of Diabate’s offensive contributions, which included double-figure scoring in 13 of 32 games, came via dunks and layups on feeds from guards rather than an ability to create his own shot.

Diabate finished the season with averages of nine points, six rebounds and just under one block per game. He shot 54.2% from the field, 61.9% from the free-throw line and often dealt with foul trouble due to overexuberance pursuing offensive rebounds or loose balls.

Executives whose teams interviewed Diabate during the pre-draft process cited several reasons behind the decision to keep his name in the field: age — Diabate will turn 21 in January; finances — he shared stories with league personnel about a challenging childhood; and collegiate scheme — Diabate told executives he would have liked more chances to play center at Michigan, something that wouldn’t happen in 2022-23 with Dickinson returning.

Regardless of his rationale, the pieces are there for Diabate to become a valuable role player in the NBA. The question now is whether the Clippers can help him get there.

Contact Michael Cohen at mcohen@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: NBA draft: Michigan's Moussa Diabate a surprise pick by LA Clippers