2022/23 has been a key season for 6’8, 2004-born French Wing Sidy Cissoko. He left Baskonia on loan to G-League Ignite last summer. The purpose of this move was clear: raise the stock for the upcoming 2023 NBA Draft. Sidy has many of the tools that are required to earn a place in the US: standing at 6’8, he has well-known playmaking skills, defensive versatility and the appropriate mentality to impact the game in different ways.

The best example for this last sentence is what he’s done this season. Sidy had to adjust not only to an absolutely different environment -LEB Gold, where he spent the 2021/22 season, is a slow-paced league with questionable spacing- but to a whole new role. After many seasons being the first ball-handling option, having to share court and duties with first-level, heavy-usage prospects like Scoot Henderson or Leonard Miller, was a huge challenge. Everyone knew from the first moment about his ceiling on the open floor and his capabilities on-ball, but he needed to build his status as a prospect by showing improvements in the other areas.

Sustained improvements on the offensive end

Cissoko ended the 2022/23 season averaging 12.6 points on 45.5/30.4/64.5 shooting splits and 3.6 assists on 29.3 minutes per game. The season had some ups and downs for him in terms of stats but at the end of the day, he solved some big questions about his development: he improved by almost a 7% margin in his 3PT shooting results and found other ways to space the floor, which was a main need for the Ignite team.

Cissoko’s mechanics have looked fine in recent years: the release was smooth enough, as well as his footwork to spot-up, and his self-confidence wasn’t an issue, but the results weren’t there. 30.4% isn’t an outstanding result, but the sample is big enough to see his development as a spot-up threat. Cissoko, who logged 1 PPP in catch&shoot this season, could live firsthand how shooting is likely going to be his swing skill at the highest level. He has the tools to be really useful in attacking closeouts because he drives well and knows how to finish in the restricted area, but all come way easier when opponents must think twice about you. 

On the other hand, Cissoko’s shooting off the dribble has some ways to go. The sample is smaller because he was a secondary or even tertiary ball-handling option, but sensations aren’t so good either. Opponents figured out the easiest way to guard him in ball screens situations was going under, and he wasn’t able to make them pay for it. Cissoko’s ceiling in this area is more limited: he can't shift directions at an elite level and his handles are not advanced, so it’s hard to project him as a shot-creator. Nevertheless, he has a clear pathway to improve his jumper off one or two dribbles, which is highly related to how to attack closeouts.

It’s also been good to see how Sidy has shown more willingness to cut. He needed to increase his activity off-ball, and so he did. It’s easy to see how dangerous Cissoko can be in straight lines: he’s speedy, strong and can work above the rim. Cutting is a very valuable form of adding rim pressure, and he has the tools to be an efficient player in this area because of the previously described physical attributes and the feel for the game he has.

Let’s talk now about Cissoko’s ball-handler status. At this point, to understand how he’ll translate his game, we must keep in mind the type of player he is: a 6’8 wing with the appropriate passing vision and court mapping skills to get his teammates involved whose main physical attribute is strength. He doesn’t create space with his handles or change of pace. Instead, he does it by drawing contact with his matchup and building room with his body -spin moves, use of the shoulders, etc.-. He’s been able to take advantage against smaller defenders, but to have a similar number of repetitions at the next level he’ll need to polish key areas. Adding to his game tools as angle manipulation or the ability to decelerate -he has already exhibited a few glimpses of it-, could help him to unleash other dimensions of his scoring game like the mid-range. If we focus on his finishing we are at a similar point: he’s solid at driving and getting to the rim, as we said, and the increase in spacing around is a great plus, but he needs to work on his craftiness and coordination to do better in traffic. It’s not all about contact absorption when you play against grown men.

Cissoko is better at making decisions on the open floor than as a halfcourt initiator. The scenario is quite better for him: in transitions and fastbreaks he doesn’t have to make decisions in tight spaces, and can take more advantage of his physical attributes. The French wing doesn’t overdribble and quickly figures out where everyone is, so he’ll find a real pathway to contribute in the NBA by pushing up the offense.

During the season we’ve also seen some glimpses of how he could be used in additional ways in the NBA. Ball screen actions between perimeter players and mismatches at the post are tools that could be used often to put him in a position for success. Cissoko has demonstrated during the season he’s aware of what type of player he is, and this makes it easier to find out how to put a player in the right spot.

A Swiss Army knife on the defensive end

The biggest part of his short-term strengths belongs to the defense. The skills package looks great: he has the length and the ability to slide his foot that is needed to stay in front of ball handlers. The two areas he dominates the most are isolation defense and weakside defense. If you check the defensive tape we’ve prepared, you’ll figure out quickly how he’s been able to take care of different types of guards: he struggles a little more to guard quicker opponents like Justin Anderson or shifty shot-creators like Jeff Dowtin Jr., but he shows commitment and capability to contest them. Against an opponent like Mason Jones, who is at his best slowing down the pace and knows how to get downhill, he stays under control without getting manipulated.

When guarding ball screens, usually, Sidy is a step slower. He shows commitment at navigating and because of his size and athleticism he recovers the ground, but he’ll need to adjust this part of his defense in the NBA. On the other hand, he’ll be a good piece to reduce the mismatches on defense for his team. He grew up playing PG in Europe against older players and, although they didn’t have the individual scoring tools or decision-making NBA guards have, he had the chance to develop valuable fundamentals for the next level.

Another remarkable part of Sidy’s defense is his off-ball contribution. Cissoko is a first-level event creator: he rotates well, is not afraid of putting his body on the line to draw charges and has figured out quickly he doesn’t have to gamble to create events. In addition to the physical tools he has, his key strength is anticipation. He reads the offense and knows where he has to be. In the NBA things happen quicker than in any other place and teams don’t need to play against bad defenses to score, but Cissoko has the appropriate tools to make an impact. And he has spent a year building his game on NBA habits.