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Player Preview: Gorgui Dieng - Something to Prove

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The Wolves' big man has a reputation as one of the rising young stars in the NBA. But there's still a lot of work to be done, and questions to be answered.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Gorgui Dieng, by all accounts, is on the fast track to success in the NBA. The big man from Senegal finished his rookie season on the upswing after Rick Adelman put him on the floor after a string of injuries. And because the Wolves are the Wolves, the injuries didn't abate last season, leading Dieng to play 30 minutes/game as Nikola Pekovic, Anthony Bennett, and eventually Kevin Garnett would all miss extended time.

Last season, Dieng finished 21st in rebounds/game, 13th in blocks/game, and 18th in Defensive Box +/-, all while shooting over 50% from the field. Considering the Wolves drafted him with the idea he would be primarily a low-usage defensive big, that's not bad.

Gorgui Dieng PER Defensive Win Shares Defensive Box +/- Win Shares per 48 Points over Par Wins Produced per 48
2014 - 2015 17.2 1.5 2.4 .108 1.5 .147

So. That's good.

Except.

Gorgui Dieng PER Defensive Win Shares Defensive Box +/- Win Shares per 48 Points over Par Wins Produced per 48
2014 - 2015 17.2 1.5 2.4 .108 1.5 .147
2013 - 2014 16.5 1.5 3.1 .129 3.0 .197

So...that's not so good.

With all due respect to Dieng's season, and with solid hopes remaining for his future, the truth is he took several steps in the wrong direction last year. He regressed in every area he needed to show improvement in, and what improvements he did make were not only in areas the Wolves don't need help in, but areas that could make Dieng's future development a lot more difficult.

Despite being the Wolves' only legitimate 7-footer for the vast majority of last season, Dieng failed to make any significant impact on the court. The Wolves performed just as well without him as with him.

Gorgui Dieng Defensive Rebound % Total Rebound % Offensive Rating Team Points Scored per 100 Possessions Team Points Allowed per 100 Possessions Team Net Rating
On Court 71.2 48.4 102.2 103.7 112.1 -0.8
Off Court 72.2 48.5 103.2 104.5 114.5 -2.4

That's not encouraging when you consider the other "bigs" in Minnesota's regular rotation included names like Miroslav Radjulica, Jeff Adrien (bless his soul) and emergency point guard/starting power-small forward/assistant coach and rap icon Robbie Hummel. That the Wolves rebounded just as well with Robocob and Robbie on the floor as they did with Dieng is not a good mark for Dieng. When you're 7' tall and everyone else is 6'8", your team should rebound better when you're on the court.

With Pekovic out, the Wolves needed Dieng to step up. Instead, he merely "filled in." The Wolves had hopes he would show promise as a defensive anchor but while he ranked high in some defensive categories, he made no actual impact on the defensive end.

Also concerning to me was Dieng's increasing desire to play in isolation. Instead of working on his defense, Dieng seemed to invest his time in offense, focusing on the touch on his bank shots and one-legged fade-aways. While that's all and good in a vacuum I suppose, that's not what he's on the roster for, nor is it a smart brand of basketball. Interim Head Coach Sam Mitchell has already gotten on his case about it this training camp.

The Wolves are aiming to be a fluid, motion-based team on offense. And quite frankly, they don't have the resources to facilitate Dieng's development as a scorer. First, the ball must be in Ricky Rubio's hands the majority of the time. Second, the Wolves' lack of a great isolation scorer (Curry/LeBron/Durant, etc) means they must move the ball on offense to generate good shots. And third, Dieng will be, at best, a third option on offense in any lineup he finds himself in. He will not get the ball ahead of Andrew Wiggins or Kevin Martin, and shouldn't get it ahead of Karl-Anthony Towns. For the Wolves to divert significant time and touches away from Wiggins, Towns, Shabazz Muhammad and Zach LaVine to turn Gorgui into an ace scorer simply isn't feasible.

So heading into this season, here's what I'd like to see Dieng working on.

  1. Improved defensive awareness, particularly on screens. We looked at this back in April. Dieng, for reasons still unknown, has a bad habit of sinking back off screen-and-rolls rather than showing. If Gorgui is going to become the defensive stalwart the Wolves hope he will be, then he needs to drastically improve defending in space.
  2. Make an impact on the glass. Again, although Dieng ranked high in rebounds per, he made literally no actual impact on the Wolves' rotation with regards to the glass. Dieng needs to do a better job of grabbing those 50/50 balls, particularly ones out of his area; particularly ones in crunch time.
  3. Better motion on offense. No more isolation in the mid-post. No more Stopping the ball to take bank shots or one-legged fade-aways. And no more pump faking into oblivion.
  4. Find a way to compliment KAT. Again, Karl-Anthony is the new anchor of the front court. Maybe of the team, period. If Dieng wants to be a difference-maker, than he's going to have to figure out how to play a style of basketball that meshes with Towns. This may not be that easy for Gorgui; the ideal big for Towns to work with is primarily and off-ball shooter who finds the gaps in the defense and makes quick, hard cuts to the hoop. So far, Dieng has been a fairly static player on offense. He's not going to get fed the ball much, so if he's not moving to places on the floor where Towns can find him, then I'm not sure what he's going to contribute.

One of the cardinal rules in smart NBA management is, if a player's struggling but other teams don't realize it, trade him before they do. I don't think Dieng is at that point yet, but he's closer to it than most seem to realize. Last seasons' showing went under the radar because the Wolves weren't going anywhere anyway. And as the only true center available most nights, Dieng received playing time - and reputation - simply by default.

This season though, there's nowhere to hide. Kevin Garnett is back. Sam Mitchell is coaching for the foreseeable future, and he's much bigger on defense than Flip Saunders. And Karl-Anthony Towns is the new "it" guy; Dieng will now be compared to him - not the Radjulica's of the world - and people's perception of him will be largely based on whether he can compliment KAT or not.

Again, I think Dieng can reverse last season's trend and develop into an impact player. But he's going to have to make some big adjustments.