The Cleveland Cavaliers’ roster is largely set. They currently have 14 players under contract, plus two players on two-way deals. That means Cleveland only has one open spot and it creates an interesting situation.
The rotation is set and the stars and roleplayers know their roles and what’s expected of them. Realistically, Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff will only go nine to ten players deep on a nightly basis. There will be nights that guys on the fringes of the rotation like the Robin Lopez and Dylan Windler's of the world, will get minutes as well.
So, to circle back, that’s again where things get interesting, especially in regard to that final roster spot. As things stand right now, the Cavaliers are ready to compete right away. That means when it comes to every player on the roster, they need everyone to be a reliable option on any given night.
That’s where Mamadi Diakite, who Cleveland signed to a training camp deal, comes into play. Diakite is actually one of four invites for the Cavaliers, but, through three games of preseason action, is the only one who has truly stood out.
“That first Philadelphia game where we put him in, we loved his energy,” said Bickerstaff. “We loved how hard he competed. And that’s who he’s been all throughout practice and training camp. So, that’s what this league is about when your opportunity presents itself, have you done the right things to put yourself in a position to be successful? And Mamadi has been doing those things and he had a huge impact on the game.”
In three games, Diakite has averaged 9.7 points on 80.0% shooting along with 5.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.7 blocks in 17.7 minutes per game. His best performance came in the team’s preseason tilt with the Atlanta Hawks where Diakite had 13 points, 11 rebounds, 2 steals and a block in 30 minutes.
“He comes in the game and makes an immediate impact,” said Isaac Okoro. “Blocking shots. Getting rebounds. Even the fouls he gets, the aggressive fouls, like we need those type of tough type of players on our team right now to get some hard fouls to get the team going. He just brings the energy.”
Diakite fits in nicely with what Bickerstaff and the Cavaliers are trying to build. His play during the preseason has opened up the opportunity for him to possibly stick around beyond the preseason. Diakite could serve similarly in the role he’s playing now for the Cavaliers as a high-energy big man who has the ability to defend in space. More often than not his number probably wouldn’t be called upon. But, much like the players in a similar spot as Diakite, he’ll likely always be ready to go in the event Cleveland needs him
However, the Cavaliers may also want to keep that extra slot open in the event a trade arises. Diakite instead could join the Cleveland Charge, the team’s G League affiliate, and continue to grow and develop within the main club’s structure and ecosystem.
With the Charge, Diakite would be able to get proper minutes to further hone his craft. There could still be times he gets minutes with the main club but, if the Cavaliers want to invest resources into developing Diakite into more of a high-end role player, doing so with the Charge may be key. Diakite is still raw offensively and having the chance to get shot opportunities is crucial for the next steps in his development. Perhaps the Cavaliers shuffle him into a two-way contract as well.
If that were to happen, there could be a chance the Cavaliers could roll into next season with Diakate, Isaiah Mobley and Khalifa Diop as Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen’s primary backups. Based on his preseason play, Diakite has made a case for himself.