“[Gorgui Dieng] really rebounded the ball. That’s the thing I really like about him. The more he’s played in the last few games, the more calm he is offensively. He’s slowed down a little bit. He made a couple moves tonight where guys came at him, he showed them the ball and then went up and scored afterwards. He’s got a little bit of confidence and he knows what he can do. And he’s really kinda sticking within our parameters of what we want him to do. Every once in a while he goes off like that little spin move he had (media laughs) but he doesn’t wanna do that all the time. But that’s okay. He’s rebounding the heck out of the ball. Every game he’s in, he goes and gets it.”
The Wolves beat the Hawks — the last Eastern Conference playoff seed, if the season ended tonight — by 24 points tonight at Target Center. After a sluggish, difficult-to-watch opening quarter that featured 13 turnovers between the two teams, the focus picked up and the quality of play followed. Despite a relatively modest 14 points and 12 rebounds from Kevin Love, the Wolves steadily built up a lead off of their defensive pressure. Atlanta’s 25 turnovers — 17 of which resulted from Timberwolves steals — were the biggest factor causing such a one-sided final score.
Ricky Rubio (6 steals) and Corey Brewer (3) in particular were aggressively picking away passes and dribbles, before leading fast breaks. Rubio literally took one in the chin in the first half, sustaining a cut that required 15 stitches. No matter. He came back in and dominated the third quarter with thievery and dime dropping.
But it was Gorgui Dieng who once again turned in the headlining Timberwolves performance. The rookie center from Louisville continued his impressive run with the starting unit, compiling a stat line that included 15 efficient points, 15 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block. Perhaps most importantly for the foul-happy rook was that he limited himself to just 3 of those in over 41 minutes of action. Gorgui’s +25 plus/minus was the game’s best by 6 points.
He’s interesting to watch on defense; entirely unlike Nikola Pekovic, who is obviously the typical starting five man next to Kevin Love. Dieng is much quicker and covers a lot more ground after hedging a ball screen, for instance. He occasionally switches onto smaller, quicker players. He contested a Lou Williams three tonight after a switch. He successfully defended Shelvin Mack’s crossover dribble, after a switch. (Maybe he’s been taking lessons from Switch Defender Extraordinaire, Dante Cunningham?)
Gorgui wasn’t perfect on defense. There were multiple pick-and-rolls where he should’ve been the help man at the hoop, but was a split second late. He’s not a Kevin Garnett-caliber free safety/goaltender, in other words. Not yet, anyway. He is just a rookie. But consider his stats in the past 6 games – his only career starts:
* 12.7 points per game on 59.2 percent shooting;
* 14.0 rebounds per game
* 72.0 percent free throw shooting (well above his season percentage of 57.7
* 1.7 assists versus 0.8 turnovers
* 1.2 steals & 1.2 blocks
* Net Rating (plus-minus per 100 possessions) of +9.7, which is BY FAR the best on the team during this stretch. He has the best defensive rating, and the best-among-regular-players offensive rating.
After the earliest signs of Gorgui progress, I wrote a little bit about why he matters to the Wolves future. His recent play with the starting unit has been the most encouraging development of a frustrating season. Kudos to Rick Adelman and the staff for quickly developing a rookie, and to Gorgui for being a dedicated worker and fast learner.
Season Record: 35-35