It took until Year 4 for me to really appreciate everything Gorgui Dieng brings to the table. I was happy that the Wolves landed him with a Draft night deal (with Utah) back in 2013, because he showed a soft jumper and defensive upside at Louisville, but I wasn’t really sure how it was going to work out for him in Minnesota. After spending most of his rookie season languishing on the bench behind some combination of Nikola Pekovic and Ronny Turiaf, he broke out at the end of the year, offering a little evidence that he’d stick. It was hard to know what to make of year 2, which coincided with Minnesota’s post-Love tankathon (16 wins, etc). Year 3 was a mixed bag, too, despite some advanced-stats love (more on that later), as ‘G’ rotated in with Kevin Garnett as the Wolves’ starting big opposite Karl-Anthony Towns.
But 2016-17… this was the year Gorgui came into his own. He started all 82 games, putting up averages of 10.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists on 50%/37%/81% shooting splits. On a superficial level, those numbers don’t exactly jump off the page; Gorgui’s value comes in ways the traditional stat line doesn’t quite capture. Steve McPherson once described a quality role player as “the mortar instead of the bricks.” That might be the best way to describe the 27 year old Senegal native.
Dieng posted the 2nd-best Net Rating among the team’s regulars, finishing only behind Tyus Jones in that category. Gorgui’s usage rate (in other words, possessions he shot or turned over the ball) ranked 3rd-lowest on the team, but he found other ways to contribute. He led the team in screen assists, charges taken, kicked balls, and contested shots per game. His assist ratio (in other words, what percentage of his team’s baskets he assisted on when he was on the floor) was 15.8%, ahead of Nemanja Bjelica, Zach LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins
obviously. He doesn’t have the reputation of a “facilitator,” but is a smart passer who does other little things to free up teammates for buckets.
One positive development that deserves its own paragraph: Gorgui hit 37% of his threes, including 13-of-30 from the corners. As patriarch of Wolves Twitter, Patrick Fenelon, and I have been saying for years: we see him bury 15-20 in a row from the corners during pregame shootaround. He’s got a slow release, but it’s repeatable, and if he is sitting in the weakside corner and is able to catch-and-shoot, he’s dangerous. Watching him hit corner threes in actual games, in an actual modern offense felt a little like redemption, but I’d love to see more going forward. He took 27 threes, total, over his first three seasons, and 43 in 2016-17; if he doesn’t average at least one attempt per game next season, I riot. I RIOT, I tell you!
His shot chart is rather pretty, and not just in the corners. Soft touch from midrange, decent finisher around the hoop… when he and Karl share the floor, it’s really like two centers are playing together, but offensively, since both can shoot the ball, it isn’t as though they’re getting in each other’s way.
The other side of the court is where things get really interesting. I’m not the biggest fan of RPM, which is an ESPN stat with a secret, complicated formula that is, as Kyle Wagner once put it, “One part infomercial, two parts bullshit.” However, I am also a craven opportunist and eager to make a point, and RPM is very, very kind to Mr. Dieng, so now I will begin citing it as if it’s Bible. Capiche?
Here is how Gorgui’s RPM ranks among the league’s power forwards (it has him classified as one, which, whatever) throughout his career, as well as where he’d rank among centers over that time frame:
Almost all of that value is coming from the defensive end; according to RPM, Gorgui is either a 0 on offense, or slightly negative, but he rates as one of the best defensive power forwards in the league (8th in 2015-16, 3rd in 2016-17) by this metric. Although, of course, RPM isn’t really rankings, as my friend Justin often says, but pay that no heed. Gorgui is a great defender. One of the best. RPM says so. Open and shut case.
… Okay, so if you don’t buy the RPM case, consider this: Tom Thibodeau was reluctant to praise anyone too much this season, but took a second out of an otherwise grumpy post-game presser to note that he has one “communicator” on the defensive end of the floor: Gorgui Dieng. Less than two months into the job, and without coaching Gorgui in a regular season game, Thibs gave him a 4 year, $64 million extension. Thibs knows defense. Thibs likes Gorgui. 2+2= Gorgui is a good defender.
The one area that could use improvement (and really, the one thing preventing G from being the most ideal frontcourt partner for KAT) is his paint defense. Gorgui allowed opponents to shoot 50.2% at the rim in 2016-17, a very pedestrian figure. For reference, linchpin rim protectors like Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis, Roy Hibbert, and Marc Gasol hover in the 40%-42% range. Gorgui has been over 50% each of the past three seasons. While there are many factors at play for why this might be (overall team perimeter defense being weak, leaving Gorgui to contest great looks), the fact remains: he’s a below-average rim defender. If the Wolves are going to become a great defensive team, either G or KAT needs to become a good one. Dieng is 27. It’s probably going to have to be KAT.
But his weakness in this area doesn’t meant Gorgui isn’t a great pairing with the Wolves’ star in the making. Gorgui is good in his own right, but when you’re talking about the future, it’s all about how the two can work together. A high-usage player like KAT who specializes in the sensational ought to have a frontcourt partner who excels at all the little things, thrives in the in-between places. You could do a whole lot worse than Gorgui Dieng in that role.