Analyzing Yannick Nzosa and Khalifa Diop

October 10th, 2021

By Alan Lu

Unicaja Malaga’s center, Yannick Nzosa has been getting some early draft buzz as a possible lottery pick for the 2022 draft.  I wanted to watch him play, and I managed to see him play in a September 25th Spanish ACB League game against Gran Canaria that featured Khalifa Diop, with thanks to YouTube via David Maestre. It was split up into two parts.  Nzosa didn’t have his best game, and Diop looked to be more impressive in this specific game.  Here are my thoughts on how they fared, as well as how their games may stack up in the NBA.

Here, Yannick Nzosa (pictured with the ball) goes up against Khalifa Diop (pictured to the left), and the two of them faced off against each other in a Spanish ACB League game on September 25th, 2021.
Isaac Ferrera/ANGT Valencia, via ID Prospects)

Yannick Nzosa is a very athletic, energetic big man that can make hustle plays on both ends of the floor.  He largely projects to be a shot blocking, rim protector in the NBA, but he will also need to improve his offense, and also add more strength in order to defend stronger opponents in games. Nzosa showed a solid ability to score off the dribble.  On one drive, he used a pump fake and quickly drove to his left to score on a high-flying dunk.  He also is a very active rim runner that will often look to score in transition and on off-ball motion plays.  He ran in to score on a quick, tip slam after grabbing an offensive rebound early in the second half.

On the downside, he really struggled to score in the post.  He would tend to miss quick, rushed left-handed hook shots short, and he often had trouble getting deep position down low.  He also attempted to pull up to score from the mid-range, but he badly missed on a floater another time.  That turned out to be the only jump shot he took from outside of the basket area, but he definitely rushed his shot, and he also didn’t seem to show any shooting touch.

He also showed off adequate playmaking skills in this game.  Nzosa would set screens to help his teammates score on open jump shots.  He also swung a pass to a shooter to help set up another score, even though he threw it slightly behind him, forcing his teammate to adjust to catch the pass, and his pass was nearly picked off.  On the downside, he tends to struggle to handle the ball when pressured.  On one play, he brought the ball down off of an offensive rebound, and he had a ball stolen away from him when posting up to commit the turnover. He also showed a solid ability to rebound the basketball.  Nzosa would actively crash the glass, and he did a great job of crashing the boards to help his team frequently get offensive rebounds.

He also played satisfactory defense in this game.  Nzosa is an athletic, rangy defender that can often swat shots to help his team protect the paint, although they didn’t technically count as blocks in this game because opponents would commit fouls earlier on those plays.  He also would rotate to challenge shots in the paint to force misses.  He also has quick feet that allows him to make quick rotations, and he showed good footwork to be able to defend out on the perimeter as well as in the paint.  On the downside, he still needs to improve his on-ball defense, and most of his concerns are because he is very skinny, and can easily get out-muscled by opposing big men.  He would get outmuscled when defending in the post, as he would give up deep position, which would force his team to commit fouls and allow scores.  He also would sometimes get confused as to who he would guard on defense, as there would not be enough communication from him or his teammates, and they would allow opponents to score on open shots.  Other times, he would give up too much space and would not always actively contest shots despite being in the area to do so.

Overall, Yannick Nzosa is a very athletic, high-motor player that can excel as a rim runner and shot blocker in games, but he will need to be a much more skilled offensive player, and he will also need to add more strength to be able to hold position better against stronger opponents.  He’s struggled a lot more on offense this year, and he may not be as polished of a prospect as previously thought. Still, he is a very athletic center that may have plenty of potential, and he may have the skill set to be a starting center in the NBA, especially if he can significantly improve over time.  Right now, he could be better suited to go in the late first to the second round range, and in the right circumstances, he could project to be an effective rotational big man in the NBA.

Gran Canaria’s 6-11 Senegalese center, Khalifa Diop is a very athletic, energetic big man that played very well in his team’s narrow win over Unicaja.  He was especially effective as an energetic, inside scorer, and he also helped his team out as a screen setter and defender on the court. Diop did a good job of scoring in the post.  He especially excelled at scoring with his left hand in this game.  He was able to get deep position, as he quickly spun to his left to score off the glass early on.  He also showed a knack for catching passes before turning to quickly score around the basket.  He showed a solid blend of having the strength, footwork, and shooting touch to often score in the paint.  He also would make strong moves to draw free throws when looking to score other times. He also managed to score on a quick roll to the rim another time.  He also made a quick cut as he caught a lob pass, but missed on an alley-oop dunk.  He did manage to take a jump shot away from the basket area after setting a screen, but he missed on a quick, rushed mid-range jumper off the catch.

He also displayed satisfactory playmaking skills.  Diop would set on-ball screens to help his teammates get open jump shots and driving lanes, and he was able to help his teammate score on a mid-range shot once.  He’s also physical when he sets screens, to the point where it seems as if he may have gotten away with more physicality than the officials may allow in the NBA.  He didn’t look to dribble the ball very often, and he didn’t look to make tough passes, so he was able to take care of the basketball in this game. Also, he was able to leap up to get boards on both ends of the floor to help his team get their fair share of rebounds.

He also played satisfactory defense in this game.  Diop rotated to block a shot hard off of a drive, and he also would help his team pounce on loose balls, as he was able to get a steal early on.  He also would rotate to hedge out hard onto opposing ball handlers, and he was able to help force a passing turnover.  He also contested a three to force a miss another time.   Sometimes he would hedge out too far onto opposing ball handlers, and he would be late to get back to roll men, which would sometimes lead his team to allow scores around the basket.  Another time, he ended up getting beat off the dribble, which led his teammate to rotate to commit the foul.

Overall, Khalifa Diop played very well, as he excelled as a low post scorer, rim runner, and defender on the court.  He’ll still need to extend his shooting range and continue to expand his game on offense.  Right now, he is a second round draft prospect, but he has been playing well in the Spanish ACB League this year, and he could project to be a reliable rotational big man in the NBA.

After watching this game, it seems that more basketball games will be needed to be seen to get a better read on Yannick Nzosa and Khalifa Diop, but it seems that this was not a particularly great game for Nzosa, and it was a very good one for Diop. Diop may be a more polished prospect than Nzosa, especially on offense, but Nzosa’s vast size, athleticism, motor, and defensive potential makes him an intriguing prospect for the NBA. Yannick Nzosa will need to play better on offense and add more strength to improve his ability to hold position better on both ends of the floor. Khalifa Diop played well in this game, and if he continues to play well in the Spanish ACB League, he could improve his draft stock to the point where he could move up to the late first to the early second round range for the 2022 draft.

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