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Gorgui Dieng is an afterthought for most Wolves fans at the moment.
That’s probably fair. After all, the three scenarios in which he receives minutes at the moment are 1) The Wolves are up by 20 late in the game, 2) Ronny Turiaf is injured, Pek needs a break and Dante Cunningham is using the restroom or 3) Ronny Turiaf is injured and the Wolves are up by 20 late in the game.
He is by no means an offensive weapon yet, although his growth is probably a little bit stunted by playing with JJ Barea. If/when SportVU technology releases the “Players who dribble away from the screen in a pick-and-roll” stat, the category will probably be led, written and sponsored by Barea. But even when Barea ignores Dieng’s attempts to screen, Dieng is enthusiastically rolling to the baskets, and he’s obviously trying to get more comfortable in that particular set.
But that’s not why Wolves fans can be encouraged by Dieng’s early play. In limited minutes on the defensive end, Dieng has quietly been demonstrating why the Wolves saw fit to just snap him up 21st in the draft, instead of trading down and gambling they could get him.
Stats first: Dieng has played in three games and is averaging 7.8 minutes per game. He has tallied three blocks in those three games, but according to NBA.com’s new SportVU statistics, Dieng is allowing opponents to shoot just 40% at the rim. Dieng’s sample size is clearly small enough to invite questions, but there is visual evidence that his defense could eventually be extremely solid in the NBA.
Before we begin lauding Dieng, we should point out that, at the moment, he’s averaging 15.7 fouls per 36 minutes. Carrying that out, he would foul out two and a half times per game as a regular contributor. His small sample size is obviously inflating that number, but he is still trying to understand what is and isn’t called in an NBA game.
But that last sentence is important: He’s still TRYING to understand. After committing his third personal foul by burying his arm in Jermaine O’Neal’s back (it was a fairly weak call, but one for which rookies will rarely get the benefit of the doubt), Dieng was extremely frustrated. But when Jermaine O’Neal went back to the exact same spot, we see Dieng throwing his arms up to make it obvious he isn’t fouling anyone.
Thompson goes to the opposite side of the basket, but Dieng covers a lot of ground and is long enough to send Thompson’s shot away with a highlight-reel rejection.
Moving out of order through the clips in the video above, the first clip shows a similar court awareness. Dieng is committed to help defense, even when it’s difficult to get to the offensive player.
Klay Thompson breaks up Golden State’s set a little bit by simply beating Alexey Shved off the dribble (not for the last time). Toney Douglas is in the lane to screen Dieng off O’Neal, which ends up turning into a screen to prevent Dieng from helping on Thompson.
By this point, the Wolves have swarmed the paint, and Thompson’s shot was going to be difficult anyway, but Dieng fights through the screen by Douglas and rejects it with his elbow.
The other clips above are essentially confirmation of what we knew about Dieng coming out of college. At Louisville, Dieng intrigued NBA scouts by blocking 3.2 shots per 40 minutes and by anchoring the top-ranked defense in the country. His muscular 6’11 frame and his 7’4 wingspan, as well as his quick feet and leaping ability, give him all of the tools to be a solid individual defender. Young big men often get into foul trouble (just ask Nikola Pekovic), and they often straighten themselves out. If Dieng can prove himself capable of understanding help defensive schemes in addition to his solid individual defensive abilities, he could be a tough rim protector for Minnesota.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.