Kevin Love, Samuel Dalembert

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


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.

Barack Obama picks Warriors to win title. Like everyone else.

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The Baller and Chief is on his way out the door.

Barack Obama has been by far the biggest hoops fan to inhabit the White House (with John Quincy Adams a very distant second). He’s put up a basketball court at the White House, filled out NCAA Tournament brackets, jokingly applied for the Wizards’ coaching job, thought about becoming an owner, gone to NBA games, and just been a fan like the rest of us.

And he’s picking the Warriors to win it all. Like everyone else.

In what was primarily a “get out the vote” effort, President Obama called in to ‘Sway in the Morning’ hosted by Sway Calloway on Eminem’s SiriusXM channel Shade 45. Asked to pick the next NBA champ, the Bulls fan went exactly where everyone else did — Golden State.

“I’m going to go with the Warriors just because of [Kevin] Durant, that addition. I think they just have too much firepower,” Obama said. “Although they just got spanked in their first game, so it will take a while to figure things out.”

Obama also picked the Patriots to win the NFL title. He’s such a frontrunner.

Report: NBA owners rejecting expansion ‘at every turn’

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With rumors of NBA expansion swirling, it’s time to look at more concrete evidence.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has repeatedly shot down expansion talk, and that’s not him going rogue. His bosses have apparently taken a firm stance.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Basketball Insiders reached out to an NBA owner and a voting member of the Board of Governors and was told flatly that any talk of expansion has been shot down at every turn inside the Board of Governors meetings. It’s been a non-starter.

There is a theoretical one-time expansion fee so high where the current 30 owners would divide their shares of revenue further. But the NBA takes in so much annually, it’s hard to imagine a new ownership group could and would front enough money.

Sorry, Seattle (and Louisville and Las Vegas and…). The evidence is overwhelmingly on the side of the league staying at 30 teams. You’ll probably just have to poach a team from another city.

Greg Oden on basketball career: ‘It’s over’

Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game 6
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Greg Oden’s multiple injuries dictated the former No. 1 pick wouldn’t have the career forecasted for him.

But he returned from three years off an NBA court to play for the Heat in 2014. He followed that breakthrough with a couple tryouts and a stint in China.

Could he once again return to the league?

Dana Hunsinger Benbow of IndyStar:

Asked whether he’d play basketball again, he said, “I wish. It’s over.” Instead, he is back with the Buckeyes as a student coach, helping out the players and Matta any way he can.

Oden, who was picked one spot before Kevin Durant, once declared: “I know I’m one of the biggest busts in NBA history and I know that it’ll only get worse as Kevin Durant continues doing big things.” That statement is blunt, reality and sad all wrapped into one.

It’s a shame we never got to see Oden healthy for long. There was good reason for the Trail Blazers to pick him first, but injuries ruined what could’ve been an intriguing extend debate over him and Durant.

Hopefully, Oden finds fulfillment in the next chapter of his life.

Report: LeBron James didn’t want to play for Cavaliers before they drafted him

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The Cavaliers landing the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft seemed like a fairytale.

The consensus top choice and one of the most-hyped prospects of all-time was a local kid from nearby Akron, LeBron James.

But this happy accident didn’t come through rainbows and butterflies. To get the top seed in the lottery, Cleveland had to get bad – really bad. The Cavs missed the playoffs five straight years, bottoming out at 17-65 in 2002-03.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

When James was a teenager, he started attending games at the arena, and he couldn’t believe how bad the Cavs were, how empty the arena often was, with its bright blue seats seeming like a neon sign of disinterest. During his senior year of high school, he went to several games, was given courtside seats and visited the locker room. His thought was pretty clear after he watched that 17-win team with the lowest attendance in the league: They were awful, and he didn’t want to be a part of it.

Can we be surprised someone who grew up in Akron, Ohio, as a Bulls, Yankees and Cowboys fan didn’t want to join the Cavs? LeBron was a frontrunner.

What he didn’t realize at the time: He’d gain the power to singlehandedly transform a franchise, and he’d develop an emotional attachment to the Cavaliers.

Cleveland wasn’t going to remain unwatchable with him. He turned the Cavs into a credible championship contender. Then, after leaving for the Heat, he returned. He even delivered delivered its long-awaited title last season.

The tears of joy he cried afterward show just how much that area, including its NBA team, means to him.

That he was initially sour on the Cavaliers adds an interesting twist to the story. It doesn’t detract from it.