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.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Finland isn’t as good as the teams the USA was destroying in tune ups.
Aug 30, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
He can decide this summer, or he can wait and join a team mid-season. There is no rush.
Aug 30, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
“We talk and he’s ready. He’s 20-year-old Kobe. It’s going to be a crazy environment.” — James Harden on Kobe Bryant
Aug 30, 2014, 12:11 AM EDT
Another Pacer player injured in international play.
Aug 29, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT
Tournament features a record 75 players who have played in the NBA at some point, and we have the complete list.
Chris Paul discusses his signature shoe, hoops with media at launch of his Jordan Brand CP3 VIII (VIDEO)
Aug 29, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT
Chris Paul is way more into sneakers than you are, and articulated it well at the launch of his latest signature shoe in New York earlier this week.
Aug 29, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
Ayon has played for four teams in three NBA seasons, and currently only has offers to play overseas next year.
Aug 29, 2014, 6:43 PM EDT
Allen is undecided on playing next season.
Aug 29, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
Knicks wing acts as security guard in prank
Aug 29, 2014, 3:33 PM EDT
Bulls have Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic
Aug 29, 2014, 2:47 PM EDT
Colangelo touts Anthony Davis, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, Rudy Gay
Aug 29, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
By also stretching Carlos Delfino, Clippers can sign four veterans to minimum contracts
Aug 29, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
The truth is limited games in an unusual setting don’t provide real answers to how Rose is feeling or will do down the line. What you think this says about Rose really says more about what you think of Rose’s future than anything else.
Aug 29, 2014, 12:40 PM EDT
Thunder center faced year-long ban before declaring for draft
Aug 29, 2014, 11:40 AM EDT
It should be USA/Spain for the gold, everyone else is playing for third.
Aug 29, 2014, 10:59 AM EDT
Shelly Sterling, who’s still tied to the Clippers, ensuring team can’t move on from her husband
Aug 29, 2014, 10:24 AM EDT
Anthony Davis should lead the Pelicans to the playoffs, which would make Monty Williams feel safer.
Aug 29, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
World Peace/Pandas Friend has already reached terms to play in China. Bidding war?
Aug 29, 2014, 9:24 AM EDT
Celtics forward contributes money toward construction of building named for John Thompson Jr.
Aug 29, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT
If the Nuggets stay healthy, they are again a playoff threat in the West.
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- James Harden on Kobe Bryant return: “He’s 20-year-old Kobe” 13
- Chris Paul discusses his signature shoe, hoops with media at launch of his Jordan Brand CP3 VIII (VIDEO) 2
- 67RIEFNS No. 1: Tom Thibodeau managing his bigs 19
- Derrick Rose knows injury questions will keep coming. And coming. And coming. 9
- FIBA World Cup preview: USA, Spain, then who else can medal? 2
- Official ‘Clippers’ Number 1 Fan’ on herself and Donald Sterling: ‘I’ll always feel it’s our team’ 18
- Cavaliers GM admits concerns about rim protection on defense 19