Apr 2 2014 12:24PM

Dieng-sanity Continues In March Madness II


Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE/Getty Images

Gorgui Dieng had such an incredible run in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, not only did the 6-11 center lead Louisville to the college basketball championship, but the rebounding, shot-blocking Cardinal also played himself into the first round of the 2013 NBA Draft.

Nobody had Dieng in their first-round mock draft when March Madness 2013 started a year ago, but everybody saw him as a Top 30 prospect after he led Louisville's D to the D-1 title (I had him at No. 25).

Minnesota liked Dieng enough to take him with the 21st pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, after pulling off a trade for the 14th pick (Shabazz Muhammad) and 21st pick (Dieng) in exchange for the 13th pick (Trey Burke).

But the young talent from Senegal never averaged 10-plus minutes in any month during his 2013-14 NBA season, and for awhile there, it looked like Minnesota got taken like Liam Neeson's family.

That is, until starting center Nikola Pekovic went down with an ankle injury March 14 and Dieng finally got the opportunity to show what he could do with 20-plus minutes in an NBA game.

For that is truly when Dieng-sanity began, culiminating Tuesday with Dieng winning the NBA's Western Conference Rookie of the Month award.

In the month's final 10 games, Dieng averaged 27.6 minutes, 11.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, with a .631 field goal percentage.

In a sense, you could call this Dieng's March Madness II: The Sequel.

Now with Pekovic back in the lineup these past three games, Timberwolves Coach Rick Adelman has a tremendous trio of young bigs that makes him the envy of many.

The 6-10, 243-pound power forward Kevin Love, 25, a Top 10 All-NBA player who is the most coveted player in the Free Agent Class of 2015.

The 6-11, 285-pound Pekovic, 28, a Top 15 center who is signed through 2018 at $12 million annually.

The 6-11, 238-pound Dieng, 24, who may have just shown he is a Top 10 rookie in the Class of 2013 (second-best Player Efficiency Rating for a rookie at 17.08 ).

I would not be surprised if he ends up making the NBA All-Rookie first or second team, based on one month's body of work, especially in a year where his year-long competition has been weak.

If Dieng continues to put up double-doubles on the regular--he put up five in six starts in March--voters could feel inclined to select him anyway because of his impressive season-long work ethic, despite a lack of playing time.

Check out the rook's quotes from NBA.com following his Rookie of the Month announcement Tuesday.

Dieng: "I choose to be a professional basketball player, and I belong with them and that's not the first time I say that. It took a lot of effort, a lot of sacrifices. I get here before the other players and work with A.J. [head video coordinator Adam Johansen] and work with the other coaches that are here. And after practice, I stay and work with Jack [Sikma]. So it takes a lot. It's just the beginning."

Sounds like a man with a plan, who keeps his coaches happy and working overtime, to boot.

You may not have known Dieng as an NBA player until 10 games ago. But it appears our March Madness hero has some more shining moments ahead.