Dieng's Career Night Makes For Memorable Win Over Kings

Wolves center Gorgui Dieng sat at his locker on Sunday night, swarmed by media members huddling around him. On the heels of a career outing in a 104-102 win, the questions kept coming one after another: How the center stayed focused with his minimal playing time earlier in the season, at what point he started to feel comfortable within the game, how his shot-blocking left an impact.

As the questions continued to roll, assistant coach Jack Sikma walked by and quickly chimed in almost as if to tell the reporters to go easy on him: “He’s got to listen to me tomorrow.” Dieng laughed and responded, “You’re right.”

The thing is, that won’t be a problem. The reason Dieng was able to step in and produce a memorable 12-point, 11-rebound, 5-block effort in 37 minutes of work against the Kings is he continued to listen, continued to work and continued to prepare himself for that very moment throughout the season.

Dieng hasn’t gotten a ton of playing time during his rookie season, in part because of Nikola Pekovic and Ronny Turiaf ahead of him on the depth chart and in part because he’s still adjusting to the league’s speed and physicality. Getting into foul trouble is something some bigs go through early in their careers, and it takes some time to get fully comfortable with the NBA style of play.

But Dieng hasn’t gotten frustrated. It’s not always fun to not get minutes, he admitted, but he stayed prepared. When the Wolves announced Pekovic would miss Sunday’s game with an ankle injury, Dieng was ready to step in and help however the team needed.

“Coming into this league, I was ready,” Dieng said. “I was prepared that if I didn’t get minutes, I would just keep working. I think you should work more when you don’t play a lot. I didn’t get minutes, I didn’t get frustrated. I just kept working hard and hopefully my time would come one day.”

It came on Sunday Night, and he was more than ready for the opportunity. Through his hours working before and after practice with Sikma and other members of the Wolves’ coaching staff, Dieng continued to work on his offensive moves while also getting accustomed to the physicality of the league. The coaching staff has preached that with Dieng’s length, he can be a force inside as long as he plays within himself. He doesn’t need to block every shot—even though he is admittedly a shot-blocker—but being able to alter shots is crucial.

Coach Rick Adelman said Dieng did that throughout the night, and it was a big part of why he was so effective against the Kings. The key for Dieng’s development is understanding his length is an asset so long as he stays in position. Often his hands get low, and that’s when he picks up fouls. When he’s backing up and keeping his arms in position, he’s very difficult to navigate for an opposing guard driving to the hoop.

That was evident on Sunday night. His five blocks dwarfed the team’s season average of 3.5 blocks per night, which is last in the NBA.

“It changes the game,” guard Kevin Martin said. “You can be a little bit more aggressive on the perimeter, and also when the guards get posted up you can wait and just know he’s behind you. His growth in that area has been tremendous in the past 5-6 months. Tonight, I thought he played very smart, with poise, and he was just good.

"Without him, we wouldn't have one the game."

Dieng, from the moment he arrived in Minnesota through Summer League and his rookie season, has shown a maturity level that continues to be a factor in his NBA development as well. He’s always been humble and gracious for this opportunity, but he’s remained steadfast that he knew he was ready to be in this league when he left Louisville a year early. He knows that lessons will come along the way, and he needs to be receptive to them when they come.

And when the opportunity arises to get minutes on the court, he understands he needs to be ready to seize the moment.

“I was ready to play, and I know they needed me tonight,” Dieng said. “When you’ve got a chance, you need to step up.”

Both Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio were impressed with how Dieng moved into the lineup like he did and contributed. It wasn’t a surprise to them that he contributed like he did. They’ve seen it all year in practice, and when he got his shot he made the most of it.

With Pekovic’s injury, it’s uncertain how much time he’ll miss. Dieng just might end up gaining more minutes in the upcoming games, and his teammates are confident he’ll be able to fill those minutes.

“We needed him tonight,” Rubio said. “And he did a great job. He keeps working hard, and when you work hard good things happen. He’s been working hard all season to get this opportunity. Tonight he got it, and he responded well.”

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