In all the roster turnover last year, no player saw their role change as significantly as Gorgui Dieng. For two years Dieng been doing all the little things after he had been awarded a starting spot when Kevin Garnett was only able to play limited minutes in the beginning of the 2015-2016 season. The 2016-2017 season was Dieng’s most impressive, as he simply was a solid rotation member as a starter and played all 82 games for the second season in a row.
However, with the arrival of Taj Gibson, Dieng moved to the bench and saw his minutes decline from over 32 a game to just 16.9 per game. While this move made a lot of objective sense, as Dieng really was playing out of position next to Towns for a full year, the lack of playing time really seemed to hurt Dieng’s consistency throughout the year.
In fact, Dieng’s best game by far came against the New Orleans Pelicans when he had to step in due to Karl-Anthony Towns foul troubles. The game, in early November, was the only game all season when Dieng cracked the 30-minute mark. With those 36 minutes, he put up 19 points on 8 of 13 shooting, along with 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals.
However, outside of those brief moments when the old Gorgui Dieng seemed to have returned, he looked like he was struggling to his find his place on the new roster.
While some of that was due to the lack of playing time, the other factor is that the NBA keeps moving further and further away from a place where players like Dieng can make a real impact. Dieng struggles to guard out on the perimeter and, while he plays the pick-and-roll well, his rim protection abilities leave a lot to be desired. This problem was exacerbated when Dieng was playing next to Towns, as running out a two-center lineup was ineffective against teams that went small.
On offense, Dieng is certainly not a “stretch-five,” although he has been an effective mid-range shooter in his career and last year he shot above 45 percent from the 16 foot to three-point line range and 54 percent from the 10 feet to 16 feet range. He has shown the ability to take an make corner threes, but his trebuchet-like slow motion shot means that will only ever work in small doses.
Overall, Gorgui Dieng is the exact type of player that is getting squeezed out of the modern NBA, as there is only so much room for non-stretch fives that are not explosive rim runners or shot blockers. The Ed Davises of the world are not finding the NBA a welcoming place.
The problem for the Timberwolves is that they are going to be paying Gorgui Dieng a lot of money (about $48 million more) for the next three years unless they find another team interested in trading for Dieng. Now, in one sense, this money is certainly being put to good use, as Dieng’s philanthropic work in his home country of Senegal is incredible, which you can read about here. From an NBA cap management perspective, the contract has become a prime example of the 2016 cap boom albatross contracts, which are causing problems for teams across the NBA.
So how can Dieng bring back some of his value for next season?
For one, it’s hard to imagine that Dieng can play worse. Dieng has a solid track record of being a positive rotation player before last season, regardless of the situation he was in. His advanced stats were likely inflated early in his career, but from 2014-2017 Dieng had a BPM around 2.0, which cratered to -0.4 last year.
Dieng has struggled when placed in lineups that are, for a better word, a bit of a mess. The Wolves bench units over the years have not exactly been a smooth operation. From the Zach LaVine point guard show to the Jamal Crawford shoot-around experience, Dieng often is left floundering on offense, trying to run around and set picks, while being left with the occasional mid-range jumper. This year’s bench unit hypothetically makes a little more sense, so it is possible that Dieng can be more effective with more structure around him.
Mostly though, there is just the belief in an obviously strong-willed person to find success in a difficult situation. While we will likely bemoan a few traveling calls and a preponderance of head fakes next season, Dieng has a good chance to remind us of how important the glue guy can be.