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Timberwolves Make Right Move Locking Dieng Up

AP Photo/Jim Mone
AP Photo/Jim Mone

Halloween was more treat than trick for Gorgui Dieng.

Working against a midnight deadline, Dieng and the Minnesota Timberwolves agreed to a four-year, $64 million deal.

The $64 million might seem like a bit much for a player who the casual NBA fan may not know of, but it’s a tremendous deal for the Timberwolves.

Dieng might not be a household name, but he’s been an extremely effective player in his three full NBA seasons and is off to a great start this season. Dieng averaged 10.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season, in which he started 39 games and appeared in all 82 games.

If Dieng’s production in the team’s first two games of this season is a sign of things to come, locking him up now instead of waiting for the offseason when he’d be a restricted free agent is a great move. Through two games, he has averaged 13.0 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game in 34.5 minutes a contest.

The early season minutes and contract extension make it evident that head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau is a believer in Dieng and his game.

The Wolves will have control of the 26-year-old Dieng for the remainder of his prime.

Dieng was a bright spot in his second season during 2014-15 but became overshadowed by the arrival of Karl-Anthony Towns. In a crowded frontcourt, it was fair to question whether there would be room for him to play an important role with the Wolves.

When paired with Towns since the start of last season, the Wolves have scored 113.2 points per 100 possessions while surrendering 110.4 points per 100 possessions (stats per NBAwowy.com). For a team that won only 29 games last season, any positive lineup is impressive. Towns’ ability to shoot from midrange or beyond and Dieng’s midrange ability allows the two big man to play together without sacrificing spacing.

Dieng’s been a positive influence on his team since arriving in Minnesota, posting a positive net rating in every season despite the Wolves going 85-163 (.342) in that time. The Wolves have had many issues over the past few years, but that’s not his fault.

What makes him good?

He’s a threat offensively from basically anywhere inside the three-point line. He’s not surprisingly a solid finisher around the basket, making 64.8 percent of his shots within five feet of the basket. His range extends to about 20 feet, and there’s reason to believe he could add a three-point shot to his game in the near future. Last year, Dieng shot 43.4 percent on shots from 16-24 feet and connected on 30 percent of his three-pointers.

He’s not Towns, not too many players are, but he’s an excellent big man to pair with Ricky Rubio (or now Kris Dunn) on pick-and-rolls.

Defensively, Dieng’s been a little disappointing as his rim protection numbers have been right in the middle of the pack. Dieng starred at Louisville as a shot-blocking rim protector. He’s still blocking shots (1.9 per 36 minutes for his career), but his rim protection numbers (52.3 percent field goal percentage allowed, -0.49 points saved per 36 minutes) aren’t where you’d want them to be.

What makes the deal intriguing for the Wolves is he will be playing under Thibodeau, possibly the best defensive coach in the league. Dieng has great defensive potential and Thibodeau will put him in the best situation to fulfill that potential.

If Dieng can come close to being a great rim protector or a reliable three-point threat, the Wolves will have absolutely zero regrets for inking him long-term.

Financially, $64 million sounds like a lot, but it’s important to remember that the new salary cap will make every deal look inflated. Under the old cap, percentage-wise, the deal would’ve been for just over $11 million. Centers Timofey Mozgov and Ian Mahinmi landed identical free agent deals in July.

Dieng’s numbers are superior despite him not being the rim protector that Mahinmi was last season as he anchored Indiana’s third-ranked defense. The numbers are pretty comparable when you make all minutes equal, but the important number is the one under age. Big men, particularly in today’s game, don’t age very well. The Wizards and Lakers will be paying their serviceable centers until they’re 33 while Dieng will hit free agency at 30. You could make the argument that Dieng is the better player of the trio right now. Locking him in for that price tag makes a ton of sense for the team.

If Dieng’s early season success becomes the norm, his deal could be a steal for the Timberwolves, making him a valuable asset for the franchise.

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