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.

Check out Top 10 plays from Timberwolves last season

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) celebrates with guard Andrew Wiggins (22) after Towns blocked a shot by Orlando Magic forward Tobias Harris (12) at the end of regulation to send the game into overtime during an NBA basketball game in Orlando, Fla., Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015. The Magic won 104-101. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
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Minnesota is everyone’s team to watch this coming season — Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggings, strong supporting cast, now all coached by Tom Thibodeau.

But they already were a lot of fun last season. Check out their Top 10 plays from last season.

Heat owner Tweet to Chris Bosh: “look forward to seeing in camp”

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 26:  Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat looks on against the Brooklyn Nets during their game at the Barclays Center on January 26, 2016 in New York City.   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 the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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This is the clearest sign yet that Chris Bosh is going to suit up for the Miami Heat this season.

The past two years Bosh has missed the end of the season with a very serious blood clotting issue. He has been working out, saying this week he’s hooping. He’s been frustrated with how the Heat have handled his health situation, including leaving this season hanging. But it sounds like the owner wants him to be ready to play — and owners get what owners want.

There are questions still to be answered: Will Bosh still be on blood thinners, and will he come off them on game days? Will there be restrictions on his travel? Will there be restrictions on his minutes?

But Bosh wants to play, and it sounds like the Heat owner is down with that.

The Heat are a much better team with Bosh on the court — he averaged 19.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, shot 36.7 percent from three and a true shooting percentage of 57.1, plus he had a PER of 20.2. He was an All-Star, but couldn’t play in the game because of the clotting issue.

With Bosh, the Heat are in the mix for a playoff spot this season. The question is, will they have him for the full season.

Sixers waive both Carl Landry, just acquired Tibor Pleiss

Philadelphia 76ers' Carl Landry smiles after making a basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans, Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Philadelphia. The 76ers beat the Pelicans 107-93. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)
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Carl Landry and Tibor Pleiss are going to get paid this year — they both had fully guaranteed contracts for this season.

But they are not going to be playing for the Philadelphia 76ers this season — both were waived by the team on Thursday. This was not unexpected. Both players salaries will count against the cap for the Sixers (they are still $16 million below the league salary floor).

Once they clear waivers, both players will be unrestricted free agents (Landry likely will latch on with another team for the league minimum, Pleiss may as well or could head overseas).

Landry will still make $6.5 million (fourth highest on the Sixers) but would have been battling for minutes in crowded and young frontcourt with Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor (among other potential players, for example the Sixers are high on Anthony Barber).

Pleiss is in the same boat in terms of minutes, he was acquired from the Jazz along with a couple of second round draft picks just a few days back (the Sixers sent Utah Kendall Marshall, who was promptly waived). That trade was really about getting the picks — a very Sam Hinkie move by Bryan Colangelo.

This didn’t move the needle much on the Sixers season.

Trail Blazers Noah Vonleh out 3-4 weeks following leg surgery

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 17: Noah Vonleh #21 of the Portland Trail Blazers shoots over DeAndre Jordan #6 of the Los Angeles Clippers during the first half in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center April 17, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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This is a huge season — a contract kind of season of sorts — for Noah Vonleh in Portland. The team has an option on him next season (the third of his rookie deal), and to impress people he is going to have to earn minutes at the four in front of Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless, Meyers Leonard, and Ed Davis.

The Blazers have high hopes for Vonleh, he was a central part of the Nicolas Batum trade with Charlotte. However, watching Vonleh at Summer League — 12 points a game on 46.3 percent shooting, 8.8 rebounds a game in more than 30 minutes a night — he didn’t show the development anyone had hoped to see. He should have dominated at that level. He didn’t.

Now there another injury setback for him.

He should be good to go around the start of training camp at the end of September.

But he can’t afford a slow start in training camp (that set him back his rookie season). He needs to show what he can do from day one, or Portland is going to move on without him.