Aug. 24—Former Washington State star post Mouhamed Gueye started all five games for the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA’s Summer League. Cougars coach Kyle Smith “watched every possession.”
Asked for an assessment of Gueye’s performance in Las Vegas, Smith said: “He looks like he belongs, and then some.
“I’m really happy for him, and I think the organization is really happy with what he’s been able to accomplish,” Smith added. “He looks like he’s got a real chance to be a good player in the league.”
After an exceptional sophomore season at WSU that saw him claim All-Pac-12 first-team honors, Gueye was selected by the Boston Celtics last month with the 39th overall pick in the second round of the NBA draft, then traded to Atlanta.
“I know there’s not 39 players better than me (in the 2023 draft class), that’s for sure,” Gueye said after a Summer League game July 9. “People who missed out, missed out. I’m glad I’m in Atlanta.”
The 6-foot-11 forward reportedly signed a four-year, $7.64 million contract before heading off to Vegas for his first taste of professional ball.
“It was awesome to see him get picked and go to an organization that was really high on him going into the draft,” said Smith, who attended the draft in New York, and caught a few of Gueye’s Summer League games in person. “The Hawks feel like they got a really good player. They made a move to make sure they could get him, and it looks like they signed him to a really fair deal that will be beneficial for both parties.”
Gueye’s efforts in the Summer League were an auspicious start to his pro career.
He logged 10 points, three assists, three rebounds, one block and one steal in his debut July 7 against Sacramento.
Now splitting his time at the small and power forward positions after playing center for WSU last year, Gueye stayed consistent over the next two weeks and exhibited his versatility as a scorer, rebounder, distributor and defender.
“It’s not really surreal. I expected myself to be at this level and produce,” Gueye said.
“It’s not something new, because I kinda played (small forward) in high school (at Prolific Prep in Northern California), but it’s definitely an adjustment,” he added. “I like where they’re playing me. It’s kinda fun for me.”
Gueye sometimes took the ball up the court and doled out sharp assists. He hit corner 3s and midrange jumpers. He weaved into the lane and knocked down difficult floaters. He scored on put-backs and dunks, as well. Gueye contested shots at the rim, battled for rebounds and used his long arms to poke the ball away from ball-handlers.
“He’s running the floor, guarding bigger forwards and all that stuff, and he’s doing a great job,” Smith said. “I told him, ‘Just make your mark with being relentless on the glass and taking care of the ball — trust me, coaches love that.’ And he’s done a good job with that.
“After his first game, you could tell he was a little tentative with his shooting. I said, ‘You’re only 20 years old. You’re going to be able to make these corner 3s, so keep shooting.’ He came out (July 9 versus Denver) and banged the first two. I think he’s been awesome. And I think there’s even more there that the Hawks aren’t aware of. He’s gonna be just fine.”
Gueye recorded 10 points, six rebounds and two assists July 9 against Denver in his second game. He put up 11 points, six rebounds and three assists on July 12 against Minnesota, then produced 10 points and eight rebounds on July 13 versus Philadelphia. Gueye wrapped up his Summer League with seven points and two blocks July 16 against Dallas.
Hawks Summer League coach Antonio Lang commended Gueye’s hustle, abilities in the pick-and-roll offense and defensive aptitude.
“Defensively, you know what he’s going to do, and he takes his shot with confidence,” Lang said July 9. “The sky’s the limit with him. He has so much he can do. We just have to narrow it down and get him good at certain things. We think the future’s really bright for him.”
Overall, Gueye averaged 9.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.4 blocks, 0.8 steals and 1.6 turnovers per game.
“Just being a menace on defense, honestly,” Gueye said of his role. “Just being a defensive guy and being able to knock down 3s.”
Gueye shot 15 of 35 (42.9%) from the field, 6 of 16 (37.5%) from 3-point range and 12 of 16 (75%) from the foul line. His marks from 3 and the free-throw line should be encouraging for the Hawks. Gueye seems to have improved in those facets after shooting 11 of 40 (27.5%) from deep and 67.4% from the stripe last season at WSU.
“I think he’s only going to get better and better with his strength and playing where he feels comfortable,” Smith said.
“He’ll get better with strength and experience,” Smith added, noting that the Senegal native has only been playing organized basketball for about four years. “He’s still slender and there are big, physical bodies out there. But his athleticism pops out. And his feel — he’s easy to play with. He’s different from other guys.”
Gueye became a Summer League favorite among Hawks fans on Twitter, many of whom considered him a “steal” in the draft. Smith liked the big man’s draft position — there’s less pressure and he’ll be given time to develop — but the coach agrees that Gueye was somewhat of an underrated prospect.
“There’s a lot of upside for him,” Smith said. “His contract is two years guaranteed, so that’ll give him a chance to grow. When he gets to free agency, if he does well, he’ll really be compensated. I think he’s going to be a starter eventually, with some real upside there. These kinds of guys usually fly up the draft boards. He’s an athlete with a huge ceiling.”
It’s too early to tell whether Gueye will claim a consistent playing role this season, Smith said. But the coach believes Gueye will “flourish” when he begins working with experienced NBA players and coaches.
“I think he can blend really well with good players right now,” Smith said, “as long as he can defend, because he can rebound and he’s easy to play with. It’s just a matter of how quickly he acclimates. I know him better than most. He’s got a really good feel and good temperament. I think the older guys will like playing with him. He’s not going to demand the ball, although maybe he should a little more. But they’ll figure it out.”
Smith is especially eager to watch Gueye play alongside Trae Young, Atlanta’s star point guard and “one of the best passers in the world.”
“I’d like to see them run a pick-and-roll and run the floor together,” Smith said. “Mo is really good there. I told him, ‘Just sprint down the sideline and once you cross the halfcourt line, point to the rim. You’ve got a chance to play with someone who will throw a 60-foot lob.”
Considering his rapid development as a basketball player, It doesn’t seem so far-fetched that Gueye will quickly become an NBA contributor
He grew up playing soccer in Dakar, Senegal, but he grew “too tall” for the sport at age 15 and was encouraged by friends and family members to give basketball a try.
Gueye devoted himself to the new sport and participated in local pick-up games, and his hoops potential soon became clear. About a year later, he caught the attention of a trainer in Senegal and was offered an opportunity to move overseas to pursue a career in basketball.
“There were just some random meetings that brought me (to the U.S.),” he said, “random coaches with my dad who watched me play basketball. I started working out with him and ended up at Prolific, then two years later went to Wazzu, and a year-and-a-half later, I’m here.
“(My family is) just proud. I mean, the whole country is proud. (I’m) representing them at the high level I’m at.”
Gueye spent two years at Prolific Prep, an elite hoops academy in Napa, California. By his second season, Gueye had become a four-star prospect who held offers from several high-major suitors, including WSU, UCLA and Kansas.
“I knew I was going to be in this position,” Gueye said. “I just didn’t know how. But I’m very glad I made the move. It ended up working very well.”
The Cougs were the first team to recruit Gueye, who saw an opportunity to play right away in Pullman. He earned a starting role as a rookie and put together one of the best true freshman seasons in program history, averaging 7.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and one block per game.
Gueye had put himself on the NBA radar, so he declared for the draft after his first season, but he decided to return to WSU to polish his game. Last season, Gueye established himself as one of the Pac-12’s top talents. He improved in every facet and posted averages of 14.3 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
“I think I showed enough in my sophomore year that (my game) wasn’t raw,” Gueye said.
Gueye had proven himself to NBA scouts, and the Cougars expected him to head for the pro ranks after the 2022-23 season. Smith was fully supportive throughout the process. Gueye expressed gratitude toward WSU and his former coach.
“Man, playing for Kyle was great,” Gueye said. “He helped me in a lot of different ways — being a pro, having a routine on and off the court. It’s kind of like a (military) routine out there, so it helped me a lot.”
The Spokesman-Review’s Theo Lawson contributed to this report.