Kevin Love, Samuel Dalembert

Extra Pass: Gorgui Dieng’s breakthrough opens options for Minnesota Timberwolves

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Gorgui Dieng, as the story goes, protested leaving a Louisville game his freshman year after fouling out because he didn’t realized offensive fouls counted toward the limit.

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.

Roy Hibbert passes ball into hoop, reacts with perfect facial expression (video)

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The Hornets did so much right in their 107-85 win over the Trail Blazers, even a bad pass went through the hoop.

Roy Hibbert reacted fantastically to blunder/basket (blasket?).

Dario Saric blocks back-to-back Raptors dunk attempts (video)

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Norman Powell – get out of here.

Jared Sullinger – get out of here.

Dario Saric blocked consecutive dunk attempts in the 76ers’ 94-89 win over the Raptors. Philadelphia has won seven of nine and looks suddenly revitalized.

The best part of all this? Saric’s teammates’ reactions – though the actual blocks were pretty great themselves.

Kyle Korver regrets missing after fantastic LeBron James pass: ‘That would have been on his lifetime highlight reel’ (video)

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Kyle Korver feels mostly moved in. Off the floor, that is.

The newest member of the Cleveland Cavaliers still has some adjusting to do before he feels completely at home with the NBA champions, who have struggled of late.

“Every day it gets better and better,” he said.

One of Korver’s biggest adjustments is learning to play with LeBron James, one of the game’s most gifted passers. Korver regretted missing a 3-pointer in Golden State after James nearly fell before feeding him in the corner.

“Oh my gosh,” Korver said. “I told him that was my bad missing that shot. That would have been on his lifetime highlight reel. That was an incredible pass.

“I thought the play was kinda broken, and he was trying to pick it up. He whipped it around behind his back right at my head, and I was like, ‘Wow, I have the ball and I’m open.’ I hesitated, and I missed the shot.

“That’s what he creates. He’s got an incredible feel for the game. It’s good to be on the other side of the ball with him.”

Acquired earlier this month in a trade with Atlanta, Korver practiced with the Cavs for the first time in Ohio on Wednesday as the team regrouped from the longest road trip of the season – a coast-to-coast odyssey – that ended with an embarrassing 126-91 blowout loss to the Golden State Warriors, who sent a message in January they hope resonates in June.

While Korver, one of the NBA’s most lethal 3-point shooters has felt welcomed by his new teammates, he’s still trying to fit in with them on the court. Cleveland is just 1-3 since Korver arrived and the team’s struggles are at least loosely linked to them trying to incorporate him into the offense.

Although it wasn’t intentional, the Cavs found themselves forcing passes to Korver, who went 2 for 10 from the field and missed his first five 3-pointers in his first two games. He found his range against Sacramento and Golden State, going 11 of 20 (7 of 14 on 3s) and providing a glimpse of Cleveland’s potential when they get back to full strength.

“The more time we spend together, the better chemistry we’re going to have,” Korver said. “A lot of what my game is, is based on chemistry. Getting a good feel for the guys, me getting a feel for them, them getting a feel for me and how I play. Every day gets a little better.”

Cleveland went just 3-3 on its trip, which began in Brooklyn and concluded in the Bay Area, where the Cavs were thumped by the rival Warriors in their first visit to Oracle Arena since winning Game 7 of last year’s finals there.

The game included another run-in between James and Golden State’s Draymond Green, who was called for a Flagrant 1 foul after he collided with Cleveland’s superstar. The two have scrapped before as Green was suspended from Game 5 in the finals for hitting James in the groin.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue felt Green was putting the champs on notice with his hard foul.

“Was it a statement? I think so,” Lue said. “He didn’t want to let LeBron get in the open court and get a dunk or layup and he took a hard foul. He wanted to try to send a message to our team.”

Following the lopsided loss, there was a typical overreaction by some Cleveland fans and media members, who were quick to question all the Cavs recent issues as if they had just dropped their 10th straight game and not just four of their past seven.

Lue said trying to integrate Korver, whose role will change again when J.R. Smith returns from a thumb injury later this season, was a challenge on the trip.

A few days of practice – and a home matchup on Saturday against San Antonio – will either help the Cavs find their rhythm or expose more flaws.

Lue was asked if his team has enough playmakers.

“You can’t make a trade every day,” he said. “We acquired Kyle Korver and we’ve got to be patient for other pieces we need, but, we’re still a good team, we’re still the champs and we got to play like that.”

 

The Cavs are just 1-3 since Korver joined them, but he’s confident better days are ahead.

“I see where we’re going,” he said. “I see how it’s all going to come together. No one around here is panicking.”

Kevin Durant: Playing Thunder ‘never going to be a regular game for me’

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 03: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors is guarded by Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder at ORACLE Arena on November 3, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
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Kevin Durant‘s first game against the Thunder featured a clever Russell Westbrook costume, emotion-laden dunks and Enes Kanter trash talk.

Durant isn’t hiding from the meaningfulness of the sequel.

Durant, via Chris Haynes of ESPN:

“It’s never going to be a regular game for me,” Durant told ESPN in advance of his second go-around with OKC. “I’m just going to play. There’s nothing serious. We got the first one out the way, and we’re just going to play the next game.”

“I’m sure it will [be emotional],” Durant said. “It’s people I’ve been with for so long and to see them again, yeah, they’ll be some emotions. But I’ve still got a job to do.”

This game will always spark both nostalgia and competiveness. It’s a lot to process while playing elite basketball.

We’ll see whether Durant, who lit up the overmatched Thunder earlier this season, is up to the challenge.

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect the game’s location.