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Player Preview: Gorgui Dieng

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How will the Wolves Big Man fare in his 5th season?

Golden State Warriors v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images

The Timberwolves most consistent player, the master of the little things, the versatile Big Man, Gorgui Dieng, is now making a few more dollars this year as he enters his fifth season.

Last year, the Timberwolves extended Gorgui Dieng with a four-year 62.8 million dollar contract. Many of us, and other NBA sportswriters, considered this a steal at the time. However, as the offseason has come and gone, this contract is not necessarily bad, but it is tough to call it a steal, as the market for NBA big men has basically bottomed out. Players like Gorgui Dieng, who are not necessarily top tier rim protectors nor floor stretchers, are having a tough time surviving in the small-ball era.

However, that does not mean that the Wolves do not have a quality player in Gorgui Dieng. Dieng has largely been the same player for the last few years. He averages close to a double-double, picks up a few assists, blocks, and steals every game, and generally is in the right place on defense. He is the glue guy, particularly when he was playing with several offense-oriented young players in Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine.

Dieng and LaVine developed a nice two-man game last year that was clicking until LaVine went down with his season-ending injury. Dieng has always played well in the pick-and-roll, as he has a silky mid-range shot that most other NBA teams have somehow still not caught on to.

Dieng even added a corner three to his arsenal last year, as 72.1 percent of all three attempts were from the corner, although it was deployed in small doses (he took 43 threes throughout the year).

Perhaps most importantly, Dieng often seemed like one of the few players to really catch-on to Thibodeau’s defensive system. Many times, his teammates would leave him out to dry, as the system falls apart if only a few players are executing it, but as the Wolves become more effective in executing this system, Dieng will certainly be extremely helpful.

But that’s enough about last year.

In this upcoming season, Dieng may have lost his starting spot to Taj Gibson, and Dieng may be the first player off the bench all season.

This was likely inevitable. Dieng and Towns have been playing next to each other for almost a season and a half and it was always a pairing that did not make a ton of sense. Dieng is, truly, a center, and if Towns and Dieng are on the court at the same time, the team was not able to effectively guard small-ball lineups, nor were the duo big enough to punish smaller teams on the boards or protect the rim.

Dieng moving to the bench is in no way a knock against his skills, he just happens to be playing on the team with one of the top two or three (or best according to the recent NBA GM survey) center in the NBA in Towns.

We will surely still see a lot of Towns and Dieng playing together, as Dieng will still be getting a ton of minutes, but as far as starting lineups (and perhaps crunchtime), Gibson will likely take the power forward spot.

But what are we looking for from Gorgui this year? Of all the Wolves, he is probably the one that we are the most certain about what his play will be like. He has been the most consistent player for the team and with that comes little reason for doubt.

However, there are a few things to keep an eye on throughout the year.

  1. Dieng’s three-point shooting. Although Dieng only attempted 43 threes last year, he did shoot a relatively high 37.2 percent on them. If he can bump up his volume, particularly from the corners, while shooting a high percentage, he becomes even more valuable on the offensive end of the court.
  2. Bench Stability. The bench unit, while playing well so far in the preseason, certainly has the capability to devolve into madness on both offense and defense. Between Shabazz Muhammad, Nemanja Bjelica, and Jamal Crawford, all three players will certainly have games where they are ice-cold and out of sorts. Dieng will be essential to anchoring that unit, whether that means getting an important stop or bailing out a failed possession with a mid-range jumper.
  3. Crunch-time lineups. I am curious to see how Thibodeau closes out games with this team. While Dieng may be totally fine moving to the bench for the opening of games, it will be interesting to see how he feels if he is not part of the closing lineups. I imagine the crunch-time squad will vary throughout the year as Thibodeau sorts through this new roster, but I am sure that Dieng believes he is worthy of being on the court at the end of the game.

Overall, Gorgui Dieng has been an absolutely essential player for the Wolves over the last four years. Players that fit his archetype may be getting pushed to the margins of the NBA, but Thibodeau and Layden awarded Dieng his handsome contract for a reason. The consistent, game-in-game-out grinders are important. “Iron G” is worth every penny and it will be exciting to see how he fits in with this new roster.