2022 Orlando Magic Draft Preview: Khalifa Diop has to fit the backup center mold

Khalifa Diop is an intriguing center prospect who will need a lot of work to get up to par. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Khalifa Diop is an intriguing center prospect who will need a lot of work to get up to par. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic need a backup center.

That is the biggest immediate need for the team entering the offseason. Whether it is something the team finds by re-signing Mo Bamba, searching for it in free agency or drafting it in the second round or late in the first if the team tries to trade back up.

The good news for the Magic is that there are options and plenty of avenues to find that backup center. And in this year’s draft, there are plenty of intriguing center prospects that could help fill the role.

Whether the Magic want to fill that role with a rookie is another question. While the team should have all of its faith in Wendell Carter, it is also noteworthy that his 62 games played in 2022 was the most in his career. It is safe to say the Magic will need to find someone they trust enough to start somewhere near 15 games.

The question then becomes: What makes a good backup center? What does that role require?

There is a very specific subset of players who are successful in this role.

They are players who play with a ton of energy, causing chaos in the paint with shot-blocking and solid interior defense. They may have limitations offensively, but playing largely with second units that does not hurt them. They inject themselves into the game and change it with that energy they bring.

Finding that kind of energy is something this draft may have, especially in the late first and early second round.

Khalifa Diop is an intriguing but raw prospect as the Orlando Magic hunt for a backup center somewhere this offseason.

That seems to be the easy way to profile Sengalese and Gran Canaria center Khalifa Diop. It is almost a stereotype to place this type of role on him because Diop still has the potential to do a lot more.

Diop averaged 6.7 points per game and 4.3 rebounds per game in 16.0 minutes per game during ACB play for Gran Canaria. He averaged 5.7 points per game and 3.9 rebounds per game in 15.5 minutes per game in EuroCup play.

At the 2021 FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup, Diop averaged 14.0 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game for Senegal. Continuing solid growth from previous youth tournaments with his native country.

Diop had some notable games in that tournament. He scored 23 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished out five assists in a 7th-place game win over Argentina. He finished the final three games of the tournament scoring 20-plus points, including 20 points and 12 rebounds in a quarterfinal loss to the U.S. and Chet Holmgren (the U.S. still won the game 88-58, so take those stats with some grain of salt).

Diop’s minutes increased as the season went on for Gran Canaria and he gained more confidence. But the 6-foot-11 center has a lot of rough edges to shore up. The 20-year-old has made some major strides nonetheless as the season has gone on. That has solidified his draft status.

At this point, Diop has done a pretty good job mastering the basics of what teams expect a raw, likely reserve center to do. He has a good frame and can still grow and add muscle and good size — a reported 7-foot-2 wingspan.

That allows him to run pick and rolls effectively. That is essentially how Gran Canaria used him exclusively offensively.

Diop is not going to give a whole lot beyond finishes at the rim at the moment. But he can get up and finish above the rim and has a good enough frame to be a big target but also squeeze into space to get near the basket — especially with how good the Magic’s point guards are right now and how much they want to get out and run.

Mastering the simple is a good place to start. And that will help him continue to grow as he gains more experience.

He is athletic enough to finish at the rim and go up for offensive rebounds. He has good size already with the chance to add more and get stronger. And he just bounces around the court really well, able to jump quickly for tip-outs and to compete for rebounds.

If the backup center is supposed to be a conduit of energy, Diop has that part of this role covered and covered really well.

But it is all very raw. And there is going to be a lot of work to get him up to the level that a playoff team certainly would need.

He has virtually no range. Although there are signs in his free throw shooting that he can become a decent enough shooter, no team should plan on having Diop pop on any pick and rolls. He is going to be limited to rim runs for a while.

And as good as his positioning is on pick and rolls, he still sometimes fumbles the ball and struggles to make clean catches. Especially as he continues to work to add strength and better spacial awareness, being able to make a clean catch before the defense reacts will be vital to his success.

Despite his wingspan and high-energy play, Diop is not much of a defender. He is not a great shot blocker and his defensive technique is lacking. He stands too upright on pick and rolls and is unable to turn his hips to keep his man in front or to turn quickly to get back to his man.

This affects his shot-blocking most of all. He just seems a step slow and is unable to get the same burst he gets on offensive rebounds to challenge shots. He is constantly playing catch up and that gets him into trouble in several ways.

These are big deals for that ideal backup center role. And likely why he could go anywhere from the late-first round to deep into the second round.

It is easy to see these shortcomings on tape. And it is easy to see how capable Diop is at overcoming some of these. Teaching some better techniques, maturing as a player and being surrounded by a more sound defensive scheme and defenders will help him tremendously.

At this point, it is hard to project Diop as more than an energy big coming off the bench. His game at this point is too raw to say much else about him. And unlike successful backup bigs who come into the NBA, Diop has a lot more work to do on the defensive end to fill that role.

His body profile would suggest that Diop would be an ace blocker with good rolling ability. He at least has the latter part down for now. But Diop still has work to do to smooth out his game. He will need time to develop.

Does that fit what the Magic need? Unless the plan is to use Moe Wagner as the team’s primary backup center, Diop is likely a bit too raw to fill that backup center role for the Magic.

Orlando has already invested a ton of time in a lot of raw prospects. While the Magic are still rebuilding and should not pass up on talent, they also need to start thinking about building a competitive team.

Next. Draft Preview: Bryce McGowens needs to do more than score. dark

With their lack of depth at center, Diop may be too much of a project to go for.