Mar 31, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
That was forgivable, considering Dieng was so raw. He had lived in Senegal two years prior, and he was ineligible even to practice for weeks leading up to his first Louisville season.
His transition to understanding NBA fouling didn’t go much more smoothly. Until the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 20th game, Dieng had more fouls than points for the season.
That was a bit more problematic.
Minnesota drafted Dieng No. 21 overall last June, making him the oldest pick in the first round at age 23. *Even though Dieng left Louisville after his junior season, it’d been four years since anyone that old had been drafted so high (Tyler Hansbrough, No. 13 by the Pacers in 2009).
*Colton Iverson, whom the Pacers drafted No. 53 and then traded to the Celtics, was the only older player drafted in 2013. Boston didn’t sign him.
In other words, Dieng lacked the untapped potential of his draft-classmates. For Minnesota to justify his selection, Dieng needed to produce immediately.
Well, he didn’t. Far from it. For most of the season, Dieng frequently received DNP-CDs, playing just a few minutes when Rick Adelman summoned him off the bench.
But after Nikola Pekovic suffered an ankle injury March 14 against the Bobcats, Dieng started six games at center. He had double-doubles in his first three games, including 22 points and 21 rebounds against the Rockets. Even after going to the bench for the Timberwolves’ last two games, Dieng has sustained his breakthrough.
- First 42 games: 1.7 points, 2.3 points, 0.3 steals and 0.6 blocks per game
- Last 8 games: 11.9 points, 13.0 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks per game
Eight games isn’t necessarily a large enough sample to evaluate a player. But the only other players to hit those point-rebound-steal-blocks marks in an eight-game span this season: Andre Drummond, Dwight Howard, DeMarcus Cousins, Joakim Noah, DeAndre Jordan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Anthony Davis. To say the least, those are all NBA-caliber starters.
So where does that leave Dieng?
He’s active under the basket, sealing defenders and using his good hands to get the ball in prime position. Given space to elevate, he does so quickly for high-percentage looks around the basket. If opponents force him to delay his shot, he becomes much more defendable as his post moves lack counters other than than repeated pump fakes.
Dieng doesn’t have much of an expanded offensive game – 91 percent of his makes have been assisted or putbacks (using data from MySynergySports) – but the Timberwolves are increasingly running pick-and-rolls with him, and he’s comfortable with hook shots inside and short face-up jumpers.
He can weave his way through crowds for tip-ins, again taking advantage of his ability to elevate quickly. He’ll make opponents pay for not boxing out.
The same ability to punish opponents’ mistakes exists on the other side of the ball, too. Don’t throw a lazy pass or take a careless dribble near Dieng, who possesses a 7-foot-3.5 wingspan.
He’s really rounding into form for a first-year player, even one who is already 24. In this shallow rookie crop, Dieng could even make the All-Rookie second team with a strong close to the season.
Does Minnesota, which is 36-36 and has already faded out of the playoff race, regret not giving Dieng an expanded role sooner? Maybe, but he gave little indication prior that he was ready.
The bigger question: What do the Timberwolves do now?
They must consider trading the 28-year-old Pekovic, who will have four years and $47.9 million left on his contract. He’s 17.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game this season, a career year. He should still hold value around the league, and Minnesota could use whatever he fetches in a trade plus the possible salary savings to upgrade its roster. Then, Dieng could start regularly.
Or the Timberwolves could trade Dieng, though it’s not easy to trade players on rookie contracts. Few teams are willing to part with their own rookies, i.e., the players who have similar values and matching contracts.
How to handle Kevin Love does – and should – take priority for the Timberwolves. But, suddenly, they have options at center.
It’s difficult to imagine Love re-signing with the Timberwolves unless they make the playoffs next season. And while the Western Conference is likely to revert to the remain and not remain historically strong, the road won’t be easy.
Minnesota could use upgrades over Corey Brewer at small forward, Kevin Martin at shooting guard and/or Ricky Rubio at point guard. In isolation, each of those three is fine, but collectively, the trio is hardly infallible.
Dieng has already shown he deserves starting consideration next season. In their final 10 games, the Timberwolves must get a better grasp of Dieng’s value and how they can best use him this summer.
Keeping Love, if that’s what Minnesota is committed to doing, won’t be an easy lock to pick. If a key exists, it might just be Dieng.
Jul 3, 2015, 6:27 PM EDT
He is a good fit in the Rockets’ up-tempo system.
Jul 3, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
She’s a San Antonio assistant coach
Jul 3, 2015, 4:31 PM EDT
Key for the Wizards is this is a one-year deal, so they save their cap space for a Kevin Durant offer next summer.
Jul 3, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
This is a huge blow to the Clippers roster.
Jul 3, 2015, 3:40 PM EDT
This was expected, now the Knicks move forward with Robin Lopez.
Jul 3, 2015, 2:52 PM EDT
Solid deal in a vacuum, but in Sacramento…
Report: Knicks to sign Robin Lopez to four-year, $54 million contract (unless DeAndre Jordan changes his mind)
Jul 3, 2015, 1:58 PM EDT
More evidence Jordan won’t pick Knicks
Jul 3, 2015, 1:35 PM EDT
Washington could land David West
Jul 3, 2015, 12:07 PM EDT
Third year is reportedly a team option
Jul 3, 2015, 11:08 AM EDT
I doubt Sacramento is celebrating quite yet
Jul 3, 2015, 10:31 AM EDT
Brooklyn making most of a self-inflicted bad situation
Jul 3, 2015, 9:50 AM EDT
If LaMarcus Aldridge signs elsewhere, San Antonio makes a lot of sense
Jul 3, 2015, 9:14 AM EDT
So Knicks are probably getting Robin Lopez
Jul 3, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
In this market even if these deals are misses, they are correctable ones.
Jul 3, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
I don’t think the Lakers are all that serious here.
Jul 3, 2015, 2:19 AM EDT
Sacramento had made a big push but again missed out on their target.
Jul 2, 2015, 11:31 PM EDT
Martin had hoped to return full-time last season, but the opportunity never materialized.
Jul 2, 2015, 10:34 PM EDT
Sacramento needs to overpay much more than that to lure free agents.
Jul 2, 2015, 9:22 PM EDT
Lopez is solid, and New York and L.A. need talent after striking out with the big names thus far.
Report: Damian Lillard planning L.A. visit to try to convince LaMarcus Aldridge to re-sign with Blazers
Jul 2, 2015, 8:21 PM EDT
Interesting wrinkle to the Aldridge free agency saga.
- Report: DeAndre Jordan agrees to four-year, $80 million deal to join Dallas Mavericks 32
- Report: Kings signing Marco Belinelli to three-year, $19 million contract 14
- Report: Knicks to sign Robin Lopez to four-year, $54 million contract (unless DeAndre Jordan changes his mind) 8
- PBT Extra: Free agent signings we didn’t love 6
- Report: Wes Matthews reaches agreement to join Dallas Mavericks 22
- PBT Extra: Five best free agent signings in the first days of free agency 11
- Dwyane Wade agrees to one-year, $20 million deal to stay with Heat 55
- PBT Podcast: Talking best signings of free agency so far 0