LAS VEGAS — Cheick Diallo is going to need some time.
The New Orleans Pelicans rookie is a project, a 19-year-old second-round pick who played sparingly in one college season at Kansas and whose offensive game can best be described as raw. He undoubtedly needs seasoning.
But Jerome Williams is convinced the light will come on for Diallo. And Williams, who in nine NBA seasons built a reputation as a big man willing to do the little things, thinks it might happen in a relative hurry.
“Those kind of guys, they get good fast in the league,” Williams said. “He’s not out there asking to post up and score 20 a night. That’s what I like.”
Instead, Diallo is content to rebound, block shots, run the floor and let his offense come where it may, via fast break or putback. Those are endearing qualities to Williams, who still is known as “Junkyard Dog,” the nickname he earned doing the dirty work in his career with the Pistons, Raptors, Bulls and Knicks.
Williams has been watching Diallo show that willingness for years.
A former head coach at Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada — a program whose NBA alumni include Avery Bradley and Tristan Thompson — Williams saw Diallo play for Our Savior New American School on the elite prep school scene.
And Williams coached Diallo one summer at the NBA Top 100 Camp in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the Pelicans rookie turned heads while competing against elite big men — including Karl-Anthony Towns, now with the Timberwolves, and Trey Lyles, now with the Jazz.
On Friday night, Williams saw the same old Diallo in a 10-point, seven-rebound, three-block NBA summer league debut against the Lakers. Diallo contested shots at the rim, chased rebounds with energy and beat opposing big men down the floor.
“He’s played a good role for years now,” Williams said. “It’s not something that he’s not going to do, because that’s what he’s been doing. To see him come out here and show those flashes of running the floor, getting good rebounds, high percentage shots, I always like that. I like this kid.”
Diallo last week said that, after he started playing basketball, he studied Hakeem Olajuwon, an offensive force in the paint, to study his footwork and post moves. But he said he’s often compared to Kenneth Faried, the Nuggets forward who’s best known for his energy.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that, on Saturday, Diallo said he reviewed his summer league debut and focused mostly on his rebounding.
“I missed a couple of rebounds,” he said. “I was watching the film and I was like, ‘Wow. I’m supposed get this one. How’d I miss it?’ ”
Despite his offensive limitations, Diallo has some similarities, Williams said, to former NBA great Alonzo Mourning in the way he transitions from defense to offense. Diallo will improve, Williams said, when he gets bigger and stronger and is able to sprint to the offensive end and immediately turn, get wide to post up and receive a pass.
He likely won’t score the way Mourning did, but Diallo can create early offensive opportunities for his team, Williams said, with his ability to outrun other frontcourt players.
Even as a “Junkyard Pup,” Diallo needs time to develop. He isn’t strong enough to rip rebounds away from NBA players or to contend defensively with post-up threats.
But Diallo knows his role. And in time, Williams said, he could flourish in it.
“He does a great job in terms of rebounding and running the floor and trying to be a rim protector,” Williams said.
“His type of game is one of those things that in the NBA, two or three years from now, you’re potentially looking at a (Dennis) Rodman-type player.”