Over the past three seasons, we’ve come accustomed to the idea of Gorgui Dieng being a good NBA player. By that, I mean it’s more or less a unanimous opinion that Dieng, at the very least, is a solid bench player who can find a role on just about every roster in the league. Considering where he started, a late-first round pick with lots of question marks, this is an accomplishment in itself.
This season may have been his best all-around. Touted as a potential rim protector coming out of Louisville 3 summers ago, Dieng’s calling card so far in the NBA has been on the offensive end. This year, he was praised more than ever for his defense.
After Kevin Garnett went down with an injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the season (and a combo of a Nemanja Bjelica injury, plus his struggles when healthy), Dieng was able to step into the starting lineup. His solid play on both ends, and chemistry with Karl-Anthony Towns helped him earn and keep that spot.
Though several lineup combinations suggest his defense wasn’t as solid as advertised (the Dieng/Towns lineup has a defensive rating of 107.4), there always seemed to be more to it. It often felt as though many of Towns’ success blocking shots on that end was partially a result of Dieng being in the right spot on the floor, helping him on the interior. He always knew what to do.
Or leading an attempted pick and roll right to the Rookie of the Year.
His defense has improved, though still needs to continue to improve to be considered a true defensive force. His offense is impressive enough to warrant minutes on most teams. The question with G is no longer whether or not he can play in the league, but rather what role puts him in the best position to succeed.
This decision will have to be made sooner rather than later. With Dieng entering restricted free agency this summer, Tom Thibodeou will have to decide how much the team will value Dieng. As a general rule, big men (centers, especially) are paid so handsomely that the term “overpaid” can be hard to put into context.
On one hand, yes, G is a good basketball player. On the other hand, this team has Karl-Anthony Towns, who is a better basketball player, set as their starting center of the future. The two of them had success playing together in the frontcourt this past season, but is this the future starting frontcourt of the Timberwolves? I think most would prefer to eventually find someone a bit more mobile and floor-stretching than Dieng.
Dieng is likely going to get starter’s money, but if he isn’t the best fit as a long-term starter next to KAT, are the Wolves going to be willing to pay Dieng starter’s money to be the team’s future third big?
On one hand, it may not be the worst investment. He’s seemed pretty durable through three seasons, and has improved every year since entering the league. He and KAT like each other and seem to enjoy playing on the floor together. Offensively, the two of them fit, and Towns is enough of a floor spacer by himself to make it work. Add another floor spacer, it may work out.
On the other hand, does Dieng want to be a third big? It’s possible that he doesn’t, as his ascension has helped him prove to be a potential starter for a few teams. It’s possible that he’s part of this young movement, and may feel too attached to the Wiggins/Towns/LaVine circle to leave.
There are lot of question marks surrounding Gorugi Dieng, but they’re no longer about whether he can “hack it” in this league. It’s about his future, whatever that may be. Whatever it is, he’s made his mark with the Timberwolves over three seasons, this past year being his best.
Watching him grow has been painful at times, but mostly an enjoyable sight.