Rookie Dieng Taking Day-By-Day Learning Approach

Rookie Dieng Taking Day-By-Day Learning Approach

Kyle Ratke
Web Editorial Associate

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It was the first quarter of the team’s first preseason game on Oct. 7 against CSKA Moscow.

Alexey Shved exited the game. With 18 players on the team’s preseason roster, the bench was full. Shved looked at rookie center Gorgui Dieng, who was sitting on the last chair, and pointed at the floor. Like a good rookie, Dieng smiled and the 6-foot-11, 245-pound first-round pick took a spot on the floor, making way for the 6-foot-6, 182-pound shooting guard.

He’s a team-first player, and that’s been evident from the beginning.

So far, Dieng has done everything the team has asked of him. On a team with centers Nikola Pekovic, Ronny Turiaf and Chris Johnson, Dieng’s playing time might come sparingly, but so far he’s made the most out of what has been thrown his way.

In his second preseason game against Milwaukee, Dieng played 25 minutes, scored six points, hauled in nine rebounds and blocked four shots.

Dieng has a skill-set that those other big men don’t have. The University of Louisville product has the uncanny ability to block and alter shots, something the Wolves needed desperately last season.

While his offensive game might have flaws, the team isn’t too concerned about that. Early signs indicate that this team will score plenty of points. The question is whether or not the Wolves can stop their opponents. That’s where Dieng comes in.

In Training Camp, Dieng was all smiles while trying to not only impress his coaches, but learn coach Rick Adelman’s system in the process. While he admitted at camp at times he was confused, his natural skill set was on display when the team let him run free on defense.

During a team scrimmage, Pekovic went up for what he thought was an easy layup. Not so much. Dieng came flying out of nowhere, blocking Pek’s shot. Pek looked around almost a bit confused, glanced at Dieng, and gave him a quick smile.

(Yes. Pekovic smiled at a rookie.)

Dieng has been learning from his peers throughout training camp and the preseason. Pekovic has led by example.

“Playing against him (Pekovic) is so strong,” Dieng said. “It’s going to help me in the long run. You know, I get used to playing against one of the best in the league. And when you go against other bigs in the league, I won’t have a lot of trouble. So hopefully guarding Pek will help me in the game.”

As for Turiaf, well, Dieng might need to invest in some earplugs soon.

“I listen. I listen. I think that’s, if I listen it will get me where I want to be,” Dieng said. “I just listen to all of them, and everything they tell me is probably going to learn in the long run.”

The thought coming into camp was the Dieng might be a project. After all, Dieng only started playing basketball at the age of 18, but the Wolves staff has seen him transition well up to this point

“It’s been a transition, but he’s been playing well,” coach Rick Adelman said. “He’s got good size. He moves very well and he’s a pretty smart player. He’s done fine.”

Adelman has been known to be tough on rookies, so his praise for Dieng is saying something. There hasn’t been any hint of what the team’s rotation will look like after the starting five. In preseason, we’ve seen Dieng and Turiaf log big minutes. Dieng has played in two games, but sat in the other two.

“We have to do it. I told them that [there are] things we need to figure out,” Adelman said. “We have to figure out who’s going to be on the team, what’s the best make up? What rotation we are going to use. How are we going to do that? What kind of goals do we want? … I just think that these practices are just as important as the three games next week. That’s what I told them today, so we’ll find out.”

The encouraging thing with Dieng is that he’s ready and willing to learn. He’s constantly asking questions and he knows that there aren’t any promises at this level.

“Like I always say, I’m here learning and that’s all I can do right now,” Dieng said.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if the shot-blocking rookie became a part of this team’s rotation sooner rather than later. If not, Dieng will continue working hard in practice looking to fight his way into the rotation.

“I work every day in game, practice. It doesn’t matter. I just want to play basketball. Whatever we do, I’m with it.”

For more news and notes on the team follow the Minnesota Timberwolves and Mark Remme on Twitter.