PBT Draft preview: Dieng can help your defense now. The offense….

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PBT continues profiling likely first-round draft picks in the upcoming NBA Draft. Today we look at a key member of the NCAA title team in Louisville.

Rim protection matters. It mattered in college at Louisville and it matters in the NBA.

And that is what Gorgui Dieng brings to the NBA — and can bring it right away. He is 23, a college junior, a more mature player who can give you something right now.

Sometimes as we get ready for a draft we pick apart what a player cannot do well, and there are plenty of things Dieng cannot do well — he is not good on much offensively (except pass). And because he is older at 23, what you see is much closer to what you get with him, he’s not a guy you throw the word “upside” at.

But he can defend in the paint, he measured with great length. He will end up getting used more in a Joel Anthony type way, but that can have real value in the NBA. DraftExpress has him going No. 17 in the coming draft (pre-lottery).

STRENGTHS

First off, he is NBA center sized — he measured 6’10.75” tall in shoes with a 7’3.5” wingspan and a standing reach of 9’3.5” standing reach at the NBA Draft Combine. Teams care about standing reach for bigs (how tall you are with your hands straight over your head) because that impacts shots taken around the rim. Dieng was second biggest at the combine (behind Rudy Gobert of France, who turned a lot of heads there.) Dieng did not do other drills at the combine due to a sprained ankle.

He can defend — he blocked a lot of shots at Louisville and protected the rim like you’d expect. But he also is quick and out on the perimeter can show out on a pick-and-roll and cut off a guard and recover — something key in the NBA game. He really works hard on the defensive end.

What’s more is he is mobile as a defender and rebounder — he can rebound outside his position. Meaning he doesn’t just box out and occupy a little space, if the ball comes off the rim somewhere else he can get to it. Rebounding is a stat that correlates well to the NBA (guys who can rebound in college can usually do it in the NBA) and Dieng averaged better than 9 rebounds a game his last two seasons at Louisville. That mobility makes him a good defender coming from the weak side as well (plus he can get out in transition).

On offense, he’s a pretty good passer and he has soft hands — he can catch and make plays right around the rim.

WEAKNESSES:

Pretty much everything on the offensive end. He shot 28 percent when he got the ball in the post last season, which is frighteningly poor. He can score right around the rim on open shots but at the NBA level he cannot create and is not of much use on that end. He is a nice passer, we should note, but teams will dare him to shoot.

He is just raw and at age 23 there is not going to be a ton of improvement that way. But if he can – if he can say find an 18-foot baseline spot or the elbow where he can become a threat to hit a jumper, his value as a guy who can keep offenses honest. He is never going to be a great scoring threat, he just needs to occupy a defender.

WHERE DOES HE GET DRAFTED?

Usually you say big men move up the draft board late, and in the case of young bigs like Rudy Gobert that will be the case. But Dieng is 23, his game is not going to change much from now going forward, he’s never going to give you much on offense. So don’t expect him to climb. DraftExpress has him at No. 17 and I would say somewhere just after the lottery makes sense. But unlike some of the guys taken then he can really help a team in certain ways next year.

Check out Lakers’ stretch of hitting 15 straight shots to end third quarter (VIDEO)

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The Lakers lost to the Wizards because they are young, inconsistent, and defend like traffic cones at times.

But that young Lakers core also has its moments.

Los Angeles strung together 15 straight made buckets to end the third quarter Tuesday night. Some of it was flukey, like Corey Brewer driving and finishing contested layups like he’s Kyrie Irving, but there were things Lakers fans should want to see such as D'Angelo Russell draining threes, Jordan Clarkson working hard off the ball and his teammates finding him, and Julius Randle just attacking.

After this run the Lakers led by 13 going into the fourth, but lost the game.

It’s official: Joakim Noah cleared to play, 20-game suspension starts tonight

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What this ultimately means is next season the Knicks should have Joakim Noah available just before Thanksgiving.

Noah has been suspended 20 games for testing positive for a banned substance, but because he was out due to knee surgery the suspension did not start until he was “physically able to play.” Noah said on Tuesday that he had been cleared, but that was just by the team doctors. He also had to be cleared by the NBA’s doctors (because if teams could cheat they would).

That happened Wednesday, according to Ian Begley of ESPN.

Noah’s first season in New York after signing a four-year, $72 million deal has been a disappointment. To put it kindly. He’s not been completely healthy, and any observer of him the past few years had to wonder if he would ever be fully healthy again. He had lost a step from the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year before the Knicks signed him. The Knicks don’t need him to necessarily be that dominant a force again (although it would be nice), but they need to get more out of him and see if he is a fit next to Kristaps Porzingis for now as the Knicks try to build a roster for next season that can play a little defense. And the triangle.

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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Tuesday’s win gives Wizards first division crown since 1979

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Divisions are almost forgotten in the NBA. They exist still as quaint reminders of days gone by, but they don’t matter other than as a potential tie breaker with a non-division-winning team. Winning your division doesn’t even guarantee a team a playoff spot anymore.

Yet, the last time Washington had won a division title they were in the Atlantic division and when you turned on the radio you were likely to hear that new hit Heart Of Glass by Blondie. It was 1979.

That was until Tuesday when John Wall led a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lakers to get the Wizards the win and the SouthEast division title.

According to CBSSports.com, that 38-year division title drought was longer than any team in any major U.S. professional sports — NHL, NFL, and MLB.

Congrats to the Wizards. They also have locked up home court in the first round, and they are currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs (who they face in the first round is up in the air still as only three games separate seeds five through nine).

With Scott Brooks at the helm this feels like a far more dangerous — and healthy — team heading into the postseason. Wizards fans have waited a lot time for a team like this.