Gorgui Dieng was one of the few players on the team last year who had a net positive impact while he was on the court. In March, Britt Robson did an excellent job, article here, of highlighting Dieng's success and his importance to the team. Dieng will be a restricted free agent next summer, alongside fellow Timberwolf Shabazz Muhammad, and the team will soon have to decide what kind of contract, if any, that they will offer him. The most prudent course of action may be to wait until another team decides to offer Gorgui a contract and go from there, as the Timberwolves will have the right to match any contract that another team offers. However, this free agency gives us an insight into how much Dieng will likely be expecting to make, as well as what other teams may offer him.
Reasonable players comparisons:
Festus Ezeli - Left the Warriors after they renounced their rights on Ezeli to sign Kevin Durant and signed a two-year deal with the Trailblazers for about $15 million ($7.5 per year).
Meyers Leonard - Re-signed with the Trailblazers with a four-year deal for $41 million ($10.2 million per year).
Miles Plumlee - Re-signed with the Bucks with a four-year deal for $52 million ($13 million per year).
John Henson - Agreed with Bucks to contract extension with a four-year deal for $48 million ($12 million per year).
Festus Ezeli, Meyers Leonard, John Henson, and Miles Plumlee all occupy somewhat similar roster space as Dieng in Power Forward/Center position. While each player has different nuances to their game and skill sets, such as Leonards' three-point shooting ability, each player has vacillated between starting and playing key minutes off the bench. Just using these numbers as a baseline, we would expect to be paying Gorgui somewhere around 10-12 million per year, as Plumlee's deal was a little bit of an overpay and Ezeli's was a bit of an underpay. That would be a pretty good contract for the Timberwolves, as it would be very similar to Ricky Rubio's current contract and would hold onto Gorgui during his prime from 27-31.
However, if I was Gorgui's free agent, I would be pretty excited over these numbers that this free agency has brought on because if we dive deeper into the advanced statistics, it paints a much rosier picture for Gorgui's future earnings.
Using 538's CARMELO projection they released this summer, Dieng's value over the next five years is as a "good starter," which is listed as being worth $102.5 million. This is a significantly higher value than the players that Dieng has been compared to so far, as their numbers vary from the John Henson, "key role player," at 66.8 million over 5 years and Miles Plumlee, "defensive specialist", with $5 million over five years. This essentially pegs Dieng as around twenty times more valuable than Miles Plumlee. While the CARMELO projects are nowhere close to absolute, this is a serious discrepancy between what we would hope to sign Dieng for compared to what he might be valued at around the league.
Taking a look at a more direct comparison via data, from Basketball Reference for the 2015-2016 season, further muddies the picture. Dieng has much higher value looking at overall box score plus minus, yet his win share per 48, while tied for highest, does not especially designate him as that much better than his peers. However, Dieng is either the highest rated, or next to, in almost every category from free throw rate, true shooting percentage, and PER to true rebounding, block, and assist rates.
From ESPN's RPM rankings, Dieng is 13th amongst all centers. This ranking is much higher than any of the other comparative players on the list and Dieng and Ezeli are the only players with positive RPMs.
This research begs two questions. The first being if I am comparing Dieng to the correct players, as these metrics certainly have a much higher opinion of Dieng's success last year than what casual observations may imply. To wit, Andre Drummond (who importantly is only 23) is worth $109.4 million over five years using the CARMELO projections. Drummond is an all-star and is seen as the most important building block of the Detroit Piston's franchise, yet somehow Dieng would appear to be in the same class of players using 538's metrics. However, this finding brings up the second question, which is are these metrics overrating Dieng's contributions on the court?
The answer is probably somewhere between the two. Dieng is not an all-star player, but he may be worth significantly more than what his at-first-glance NBA counterparts received this summer. The good news for the Timberwolves is that the number of teams with obscene cap space next summer will have been drastically reduced, as the Timberwolves themselves appear to be one of the teams with the most available money to spend next summer.
However, that will also be the summer to sign an "impact player," the one perceived to be the missing piece to take the team to the next level in the hopes that the Timberwolves can court someone like Serge Ibaka or Gordon Hayward to a max deal before Wiggins, LaVine, and Towns all need new contracts. This will also likely be Dieng's one big contract that he will sign in the NBA, as he will be 27 by the time he is a free agent next summer. By the time he is a free agent at 30-31, he will be on the decline of his prime.
Our expectations for what Dieng will sign for, and what he should be anticipating, should likely be higher than what the aforementioned players received during the summer, perhaps somewhere around the $15-18 million a year range. The optimistic way of looking at it is that Dieng's contract will take the place of Nikola Pekovic, of whom all signs are pointing towards his career, unfortunately, nearing an end. Pessimistically, the team could be paying close to $20 million a year to a player who would optimally play the same position as Karl-Anthony Towns.
The beginning of the year is then incredibly important from an evaluation standpoint of how Towns and Dieng play together, as the two will be the teams' starting frontcourt barring a few potential minutes from Kevin Garnett to start each game. If the two continue to play together successfully and their teamwork and chemistry builds upon the success the team found with the line-up during the post All-star break period, then perhaps we need to start asking a different kind of question for the upcoming offseason.
What if the Wolves' "impact player" to sign is Gorgui Dieng?