LAS VEGAS — Summer League can be a great measuring stick.
A year ago Gorgui Dieng looked a little confused by the speed and style of the NBA/Summer League game. He was thinking and not just playing, and with that he looked like a lost rookie.
A year later he is owning it — Dieng had 13 points and 19 rebounds in Minnesota’s win over the Suns Wednesday.
“I feel more comfortable but I’ll let you guys judge,” Dieng said after the game.
It doesn’t take much of a judge to see the leap he has made.
It all started in the regular season. Minnesota’s Rick Adelman isn’t a fan of giving rookies a lot of run (especially when coaching to rack up wins and keep his job), but when Nikola Pekovic went down he had no choice and Dieng got some burn — and looked good. After the All-Star break last year he averaged 8.9 points (with a .569 true shooting percentage) and 8.4 rebounds a game. Plus, he blocked better than a shot a game. He moved himself into the Rookie of the Year conversation.
You can really see the leap he’s made both in confidence and feel for the game in his second Summer League.
You can see it on the glass where he put a body on his man then used his athleticism and strength to pull down 37 percent of his team’s rebounds Wednesday. You can see it in his footwork. You can see it in how he finds good spacing on offense and is willing to cut hard off the ball. He moves very well on defense and knows how to use his athleticism to his advantage to protect the rim. He sets a good screen (well, when the guard lets him, this is Summer League) and has a nice couple first steps on the roll.
He also showed off a Duncan-esque mid-range bank shot, hitting the only one he took.
“I’ve been working a lot on that this summer,” Dieng said. “I’m always looking out for something to improve my game and I think something like that added to my game will really help me.”
He’s just fun to watch play.
“He’s going to be a work in progress but every day he gets better,” said David Adelman, who coached the Timberwolves at Summer League. “We’re trying to teach him a lot of little nuances, just playing off the ball, scoring on the block, things like that. …
“The main thing with him is keeping his ear on things and letting him know he’s got to run front rim to front rim every time down the court. He’s got to be the first big down the court, with his athleticism and how he moves his feet, that should be the thing. And just playing off the ball, like if a big guy like (Kyrylo) Fesenko has the ball on the block he should be up at the free throw line where he can see him. Just kind of playing in a tandem.”
His teammates like playing with him.
“You just throw it up to him and he’ll get it,” Zach LaVine, who ran the Minnesota offense for much of the game Wednesday, said of Deing. “He’ll battle you, his teammate for a rebound.”
Dieng is saying exactly what you want a player to say, spouting the cliches of working one day at a time, just trying to get better. But he means it; the coaches love the way he listens and absorbs information.
“What (the coaches and I) discussed is that in the summer is the time the players got better, so I’ve been in the gym working with them a lot,” Dieng said. “Just learning the game overall. They cannot tell you what to do exactly, but you’ve got to have a good feeling for yourself, to learn the game.”
He’s learning. And it shows.