One of those teams is the Minnesota Timberwolves, who may have something in rookie big man Gorgui Dieng.
New Timberwolves GM Flip Saunders spent the offseason loading his roster with veterans such as Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer and Ronny Turiaf in hope of making the playoffs for the first time since 2004. While Minnesota (35-35) already has surpassed last season’s win total, break-even ball doesn’t get it done in the Western Conference.
While the veterans got most of the minutes, Dieng and fellow rookie Shabazz Muhammad – both acquired in a draff day swap that sent Trey Burke to Utah – mostly sat and watched. Through the first 64 games, Dieng accumulated 22 DNPs as Turiaf backed up Nikola Pekovic in the middle.
When Dieng (pronounced JENG) did play, his minutes were limited and so was his production. He did not once crack double figures in points or rebounds, averaging just 6.5 minutes, 1.7 points and 2.3 rebounds.
When Turiaf went down in late February with a knee injury, Dieng became the backup center but still could not cultivate a permanent role in coach Rick Adelman’s rotation. He would play 13 minutes one game and five the next, and sometimes still not play at all.
But when Pekovic aggravated an ankle injury in a loss to Charlotte on March 14, Adelman had no choice but to make the kid from Senegal his starting center.
In six games, Dieng has been phenomenal. He has averaged 33.8 minutes, 12.7 points, 14.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.1 blocks while collecting five double-doubles and shooting nearly 60 percent (29-of-49) from the field.
The 6-11 Dieng has had a bit of a lucky draw during his recent stretch. He faced Sacramento without DeMarcus Cousins and Houston without Dwight Howard.
At the same time, he capitalized on their absence, collecting 12 points, 11 boards and five blocks against the Kings and 22 points and 21 boards against the Rockets. He also swept 17 rebounds against Memphis’ massive front line and overpowered the smallish Atlanta Hawks for 15 points and 15 boards.
Even with his prior sporadic playing time, Dieng has a PER of 15.69, which is impressive for a rookie.
Dieng didn’t quite crash the table this week. He has been doing his thing for about two weeks and has much fresher legs than most of his draft classmates, who have been going at it for nearly five months.
But with a dozen games remaining and a weak rookie class, a monthly award or even a spot on the All-Rookie Second Team isn’t out of the question for the Louisville alumnus.
Even better is the spot he seems to have secured for next season. The injury-prone Turiaf, 31, is a free agent this summer and likely won;t be re-signed. That would open the backup center spot for Dieng, whose length, jumping ability and quickness make him an ideal complement to the wider, burlier ground-bound Pekovic.
On to the rankings.