Unless something happens to Nikola Pekovic, Gorgui Dieng will begin the year as the backup center for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Dieng was drafted No. 21 overall out of Louisville, and at age 23, he is one of the older rookies in the league.
Despite his age, he is unlikely to get a starting position this year. He is a strong defensive player with a 7’3” wingspan, but has a sub-par post game and struggles to score inside.
Even with the acquisition of Ronny Turiaf and re-signing of Pekovic, however, Dieng should get some time as a defensive plug off the bench, and his value on the team should not be diminished because he is not projected to be a scorer at the NBA level.
In order for Dieng to succeed in his rookie season, the 6’11”, 230 pound center from Senegal must not shy away from improving his post play. His body control also needs work and he needs to come to terms with his role as a defensive specialist.
Improving His Post Play
Suggestion No. 1 and suggestion No. 3 appear to contradict each other: Why would a defensive specialist bother to work on post play if that isn’t his main role?
It’s a fair question, but even though 23 is old for a rookie—especially in the NBA—he is still too young to limit himself. Even if he never develops a strong post game, a better one would be a tool worth having.
Only focusing on defense would give other teams the opportunity to go small when Dieng is on the court, knowing that he won't post up an opponent, even one far shorter than him.
Putting a smaller, faster player at center could hurt Dieng’s ability to defend. While he is known for his shot blocking and could overwhelm a stretch 4 with his size, Dieng also struggles in transition and will have increased trouble with a quicker opponent.
Even being able to post up a smaller player would help Dieng’s game. It would allow him to score on mismatches and force teams to put a larger, slower player at the 5, which should play into the rookie’s strengths.
Working on His Body Control
Dieng tends to plod on defense and struggles to finish at the basket, two problems that will haunt him in transition play.
If he is going to see time as a defensive specialist, Dieng will need to avoid getting beat in transition.
He is known to play a little stiff and stomps around from time to time. While his lateral speed is fine and he can prevent open looks when facing a half-court set, opponents will occasionally blaze by him after a turnover or defensive rebound.
Dieng will need to make longer, smoother strides—something the coaching staff will likely address before the season.
In order to cash in on his defense by scoring in transition, he must learn to slow the game down when he is by the rim. Unlike his running mechanics, this is something that is developed during the game, and it will only come with the minutes he earns with his defense.
The two work hand-in-hand and it all begins with a focus on body movements.
Accept His Role as a Defensive Specialist
It’s hard to know Dieng’s expectations coming into the league, but he has to understand that he is playing on a team with a $60 million center in Pekovic and a capable backup in Turiaf.
Both players have had their fair share of success in the league, and Dieng will have to find a niche if he wants playing time.
Dieng will do himself a service by working on defense and being okay with a lockdown role on the team.
Minnesota will face plenty of capable big men in the Western Conference, whether it is Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol or Tim Duncan, and while nobody in their right mind is going to ask Dieng to guard a player of that caliber for an entire game, he will probably get an opportunity to do so, in some capacity, during the season—at least if he wants playing time.
Everyone knows that there is little glamor in being an off-the-bench defensive plug, but most successful teams have players like that, and Dieng could be that guy for the Wolves in 2013-14.
With the extension of Pekovic and everything else that happened in the offseason, Dieng might have gone overlooked, but he could easily play an important role on a Timberwolves team looking to make the playoffs for the first time since the Kevin Garnett era.
Defense will be the key to his playing time, but Dieng should not neglect his post game and needs to work on his body control as well if he is going to have success this season.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.
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