First things first: What this post is not.
This post is not a knee-jerk reaction to Gorgui Dieng’s nice performance last night in his first career start; a points-rebounds double double with 5 blocks mixed in for good measure. Despite the low level of competition — the Kings sans Cousins — Gorgui impressed fans with his calling-card rim protection, as well as some competent-looking finishes around the basket.
Adelman sung Gorgui’s praises after the game. “Dieng did a great job coming in, double-double and as the game went on he got more and more comfortable,” Coach said in his presser. “It was a good win to get.”
But this isn’t the Gorgui Kneejerk Post. There are enough reasons to delay that one for a while: His 6.5 fouls per 36 minutes, his 42.4 percent free-throw accuracy, and his horrific plus-minus numbers, are good places to start when chilling one’s enthusiasm about the Wolves rookie center.
This post is about why we should take interest in Gorgui’s development and what he *could* mean to this team going forward.
I see three main reasons why Gorgui matters:
First is his contract. It’s extremely affordable. Late first-round picks are where bargain-bin shopping happens in the NBA. Gorgui will earn just $1.4 Million next season, $1.5 Million the year after that, and $2.3 Million the year after that. (Compare this to Pekovic’s salary in those seasons of $12.1 Million, each year.) The Wolves are spending their available cap space (and what I assume is the Taylor Basketball Budget) on Love, Pek, Martin and the rest. They do not and will not have much flexibility to add players. Having Gorgui for such a cheap salary could potentially be of huge benefit during the prime of Love’s career, assuming he remains a Timberwolf.
Second is his potential trade value. This is tied to his cheap contract. Right now, the Timberwolves have a .500ish ball club that lacks trade assets. Aside from Kevin Love anyway. If Gorgui can quickly establish himself as a plus defender and rebounder, he will have trade value that the Wolves could stand to benefit from. Maybe they decide they want to move Kevin Martin, but need to sweeten the deal bring back somebody better. Gorgui and his small salary could be that sweetener.
Third, and finally, is his skillset. Some breaking news: The Wolves don’t have any shot blockers. They’re ranked dead last in shot blocking. It isn’t just lack of shot blocking, either. The Wolves don’t really contest shots. They’re just a sliver behind the tanking 76ers and Jazz for the league’s highest opponent field-goal percentage in the league, and they are DEAD LAST in the league in defending shots at the basket, in the restricted area. For a little perspective on the Wolves interior defense, their 64.9 percent allowed in the restricted area is right about what stars like Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Tyson Chandler shoot in the paint. On the other end of the spectrum is the Indiana Pacers and their restricted-area opponent percentage of 53.2. In today’s NBA, that’s about what the corpses of Vince Carter and Kevin Garnett shoot.
How might Gorgui help fix this problem? Well, by contesting shots at the rim. This season, Gorgui’s opponents are shooting just 43.8 percent at the rim. That’s slightly better than Andrew Bogut and not THAT much worse than Roy Hibbert and Larry Sanders, the top rim protectors in the league. He blocks 0.7 shots per game, which amounts to an impressive 3.2 per 36 minutes. It seems probable that Gorgui’s aggressive defense leads to good results in the aggregate: The Timberwolves play their best defense (99.3 points allowed per 100 possessions) with Dieng on the floor. When he’s not on the floor, they allow 103.4 pp100.
Looking longer term, bigger picture, the question becomes whether the Wolves might improve with Gorgui as the starting center and, to borrow Nate in St. Paul’s terminology from a recent comments section, with Pek reassigned to a “big man Manu” role, off the bench. (Perhaps a “big man Manu” could just be called a “McHale.”) This would require a few developmental things to happen including (and not necessarily limited to) Gorgui learning how to not foul (like Pek did) and learning how to not hinder the offense with awkward positioning. Also, and if we’re being honest, a Love-Gorgui front line probably requires a farewell to the high-post-centric Adelman Offense. Gorgui could improve a ton and never approach Pek’s post-up savvy. But he might become a functional
dunker scorer in a simpler, pick-and-rolling offense.
Anyway, just some things to think about during the home stretch of the season where Gorgui figures to play more minutes than usual.