Diamond Stone's introduction to the NBA did not go as planned. Projected as a potential lottery pick coming out of high school, Stone's stock dropped to a marginal first-round selection despite a productive freshman year at Maryland and ultimately to No. 40 overall by New Orleans Pelicans before being traded to the Los Angeles Clippers on draft night.
Many believed that Stone's decision to leave after only one season was a big mistake.
His rookie year with the Clippers was spent mostly in the D-League. It was followed by another type of NBA reality when Stone was a part of a three-team trade that landed the 6-foot-11 center with the Atlanta Hawks.
It almost seemed as if Stone were simply a throwaway in a deal, but that might not be the case.
After sitting out Atlanta's first summer league game in Las Vegas on Friday, Stone got his first chance with his new team Sunday and made a positive first impression. Looking leaner and more athletic than he did in College Park, Stone finished with 11 points and five rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench in an 84-82 win over the Pelicans.
"I like Diamond Stone. He played limited minutes, but he had a fantastic first outing," former NBA guard and television analyst Steve Smith said after the NBA TV telecast.
Not only does Stone have a good chance to make the Hawks’ roster, he also appears to have a shot at being a rotation player for a team that appears to be in a total rebuild after trading center Dwight Howard to the Charlotte Hornets and letting four-time All-Star Paul Millsap leave through free agency.
The Hawks drafted former Wake Forest star John Collins in the first round, but the 6-10, 235-pound Collins seems more comfortable facing the basket than inside. Collins finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds in 24 minutes Sunday.
Coming off the bench, Stone was active from the start. He scored three quick baskets after replacing Richard Solomon, the third a thunderous dunk off an offensive rebound. He gave the Hawks the lead with back-to-back baskets in the fourth quarter.
While his game seems to be similar to the one he played with the Terps, Stone looks much better running the floor and seems to have benefited from his year with the Clippers, particularly in his workouts with Paul Pierce.
Aside from Collins, the only center the Hawks have under contract is Miles Plumlee.
It will be interesting to see how the Hawks use Stone for the remainder of the summer league, but don’t be surprised if he winds up starting at center alongside Collins and Taurean Prince. Maybe leaving Maryland after his freshman year wasn’t such a mistake for Stone after all.