Column: We're Watching Gorgui Dieng's Development Right Before Our Eyes
Gorgui Dieng doesn’t carry himself like a rookie on or off the court. He hasn’t always gotten playing time this year, but in the last month of the season we as onlookers are getting to see what Wolves players have noticed from Day 1. Dieng’s work ethic and drive fuels his development, and his belief that he is ready on all fronts to compete at the NBA level—he’s said that since last June, by the way—has been the foundation for his continued progress and recent success.
On Friday night, we once again got to see it firsthand. On the night Dieng received his KIA NBA Rookie of the Month Award for March in a special pregame ceremony, Dieng hauled in 20 rebounds and scored 12 points—including the game-winner with 4.6 seconds left—in a 112-110 victory over the Houston Rockets.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. We’ve watched Dieng grow over the past month, and during that time we’ve better gotten to know the man who is more than ready for the spotlight this league offers night in and night out.
“He doesn’t seem like a rookie—I mean, he’s confident,” guard Ricky Rubio said. “He thinks he’s Michael Jordan, and that’s good. I’m not saying it in a bad way. I’m saying he’s confident, he works hard…A little cocky, but it’s fun. And it happened, I mean, a rookie with that confidence you’re going to hit that shot. That’s the way he is. He waited for his opportunity, he had it at the end of the season, and I think he showed everybody how big he can be.”
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Since getting more playing time over the past month, Dieng’s numbers tell the story. In seven of his past 15 games, he’s registered double-doubles. In two games against the Rockets, just 22 days apart, he’s registered 21 and 20 rebounds, respectively, including the first-ever 20-point, 20-rebound game by a rookie in Timberwolves history on March 20.
He’s developed from a player who struggled picking up fouls early on in the season all the way to a player who is playing in upwards of 35 to 40 minutes per night and thriving in that role. We’re seeing a little bit more of his move arsenal under the hoop offensively as well as his ability to hit mid-range jumpers when the opportunity presents itself.
And we’re seeing the ability to hit big shots under pressure—that late basket against the Rockets was the first game-winner of his career. He told me earlier this season that his experiences playing with Louisville in hostile territory against Kentucky at Rupp Arena coupled with the Cardinals’ run to the 2013 national championship helped him develop an “If I can play in these environments, I can play anywhere” philosophy. His words after the game on Friday night proved that once again.
About a half hour after the game, Dieng calmly answered why he didn’t feel the pressure of the moment.
“It was just like if I missed the shot, we’ll go to overtime,” he said. “So there was no pressure.”
He understood the magnitude of the situation, but he didn’t let it faze him.
“It was still two points, you know?” Dieng said. “The only thing counting is helping this team to win. And we play tonight together, and we in the game.”
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Dieng’s been very complimentary of the coaching staff and fellow teammates who have helped him throughout the season. Assistant coach Jack Sikma worked a lot with him, as did head video coordinator Adam Johansen.
Center Ronny Turiaf, who has talked about the belief he has in Dieng throughout the season, said he’s seen the rookie work on those types of shots in the paint this year. It’s gratifying to see him be able to hit the big shot when it mattered most.
“It’s big, big for him,” Turiaf said. “Big for us as a basketball club to be able to show the poise and be able to keep winning basketball games, and tonight was one of those historic nights. I feel very, very blessed to be part of it.”
Now, as Wolves fans, it’s going to be important to watch Dieng finish out the final three games of this season—beginning tonight in Sacramento—before we head into the offseason. Dieng has an opportunity to become a big piece of Minnesota’s success moving forward.
We’re seeing the foundation of his development right before our eyes.
“He’s going to be a big part of our team,” Corey Brewer said as he looked forward to next year. “Once we get everybody healthy and everybody back, I think it’s going to be a great year for us.”