It’s late in the season and the Timberwolves have no chance of making the playoffs. Numerous guys are are injured. There’s not a whole lot to be, well, excited about. It’s been tough to get really into the games of late.
However, the past two games have offered an inkling of hope in the shape of the latest second-round draft pick to enter the Twin Cities. If you don’t know by now, his name is Keita Bates-Diop and he has quickly made his way into the hearts of the fans.
KBD stepped into Andrew Wiggins’ place admirably in the overtime win against Washington, dropping 12 points, five rebounds, and two assists, but it was the way he performed in last Saturday night’s Knicks win that has fans buzzing. He nailed seven of his 12 shot attempts (58.3%) en route to 18 points—grabbing six rebounds, nabbing two steals, and swatting two shots, to boot.
To honor his first official breakout game, KBD takes his well-deserved place in this edition of Canis Hoopus Game Tape.
Let’s dive in.
As you can see above, Bates-Diop kicked off his night quickly and in the smooth fashion that drapes over his entire game. After Jeff Teague drove aimlessly into the paint in classic Jeff Teague form, the rookie caught the ball late in the shot clock ready to fire. A quick right-foot jab step later, he rose up and tickled the twine on a nice looking jumper. It was a sign of things to come.
With a tick over five minutes remaining in the first term, last season’s Big 10 Player of the Year flashed a side of his game that has been absent during his fleeting minutes in the big leagues. He smartly spotted-up in the corner as Dario Saric galloped up the floor and splashed his third 3-pointer in his first 18 career attempts.
He had shown his mid-range chops and his ability to stretch the floor, so naturally Bates-Diop ended an impressive quarter by showcasing what he can do inside. Following a Gorgui Dieng bricked triple, KBD skied over Knicks guard Emmanuel Mudiay, barreled a shoulder into his chest, and finished with the easy layup.
It’s easy to forget just how big he is when you watch the 48th pick glide around the court. His 6-foot-9 height combined with his huge 7-foot-3 wingspan makes for a gangly menagerie of arms and legs, equating to a nightmare for opposing rebounders.
Like rookies tend to do, he cooled down considerably in the second quarter. He went scoreless and failed to add a rebound or assist in his four minutes, but he did make an encouraging defensive impact in the closing seconds of the half.
He switched off Kevin Knox onto a steamrolling DeAndre Jordan, stifled his initial catch, then sent the ensuing shot back where it came from. Not only did the block stop New York from getting a momentum building bucket at the end of the half, it led to Jeff Teague nailing a 35-foot prayer as the buzzer sounded.
It was a solid first half for Bates-Diop, especially for someone who had played just 168 total minutes prior to Saturday night, but he was from content. He came out gangbusters in the third term, and it all started with his knack for cutting with purpose and energy.
First, he snuck behind the defense on the baseline, catching a nice drop-off bounce pass from Josh Okogie and finishing the easy deuce. He followed that up with an uber-impressive give and go with Dario Saric — another proponent of excellent off-ball movement.
Fellow rookie Kevin Knox cuts Bates-Diop’s first move off quickly, but he didn’t anticipate the budding basketball IQ that KBD possesses. The 23-year-old kicked it out to The Homie, jetted through the lane, and collected a beautiful dish for another easy bucket.
His off-ball expertise are a tantalizing prospect, but the next play he made was the one that, if made consistently, would really elevate his ceiling. He curled up from the corner, took the hand-off from Gorgui Dieng, hid behind the proceeding screen, and nailed the long-range jimmy.
Being able to nail spot up trifectas at his size is nigh on a must for all players these days. However, if he can take the ball of hand-offs and hit 3’s he can become a genuinely tough cover.
The next time he got the rock, he passed up on the opportunity to jack another long-bomb, opting instead to snake his way into the mid-range area and splash a fading jumper over Mitchell Robinson, who has been blocking everything in his vicinity lately.
At this point, we’re pretty much assuming that KBD has real three-level scoring ability. That’s when he reminded us again how damaging he can be on the other end of the floor. After Robinson picked up another block and started the Knicks fast break, Bates-Diop hurtled down the floor and pinned Allonzo Trier’s shot against the glass.
With the game out of reach, Bates-Diop was quiet in the last quarter. The damage was done, though. He had taken over the game in just his second career start, filling a fan base with hope at the same time.
When Wiggins inevitably returns, it would be surprising if Bates-Diop wasn’t able to get off the bench. He has been a two-way rock lately and the Minnesota brass need to find those kind of players now as they meander their way through the last part of another unsuccessful season.
With little to play for now, it will be fun to keep an eye on what KBD does on a nightly basis. Perhaps this is the start of something great.