Saunders: Muhammad, Dieng Fill Immediate Needs On Wing And In Paint

Saunders: Muhammad, Dieng Fill Immediate Needs On Wing And In Paint

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Wolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders has heard the concerns. He’s fielded tweets and audible grumbles from fans after Thursday’s 2013 NBA Draft, and he understand there is buzz around the Timberwolves concerning their first round selection of forward Shabazz Muhammad and center Gorgui Dieng.

And he said that’s OK.

“If they’re talking about us, that’s good,” Saunders said after Friday’s introductory press conference, introducing the two newest members of the Wolves organization. “I’m excited about it because we’re filling a lot of holes. We needed someone to protect the rim—Gorgui will be able to do that. We were very low on scoring from our 2s and 3s—Shabazz is going to help out on that.”

Heading into Thursday much of the conversation surrounded finding a true shooting guard—many of those names were off the board before the ninth pick. So the Wolves filled two needs while ensuring they could reach late value picks they coveted: They traded that ninth pick for the 14th and 21st selections, nabbing Muhammad’s shooting touch and then darting ahead five selections. At least one of those teams expressed significant interest in taking Dieng.

Now, the Wolves are setting with a pair of rookies who aren’t anticipated to start next season but can fill specific roles on a team looking to take the next step. They’re two athletes who are NBA ready right now and can help the team win immediately and in the future.

These picks, Saunders said, only complement the moves Minnesota hopes to make in the free agent market this summer.

“On a team, you want a melting pot,” Saunders said. “You want players who can bring something we don’t have. That’s what [Muhammad] does. What Gorgui brings is a guy who is a shot blocker.”

The Wolves hosted an estimated 60-70 potential draft picks over the past month—most of them for closed team workouts and about 25 more in league-wide workouts for all franchises. They spoke with a lot of players, and one thing Saunders said he encountered was a lot of prospects wanted the chance to play with Ricky Rubio and the upside the Wolves possess. He said if this was a college recruiting situation, a lot of prospects would have liked committing in the Twin Cities.

When Muhammad came through on June 16, he conveyed that as well. He spoke a lot about having worked out with Kevin Love in the past, Rick Adelman’s philosophy on the game and what a point guard like Rubio can do for opening up an offense.

That might be reciprocal in this situation. Muhammad has fielded questions over the past month—including the past 36 hours since being drafted—about off the court issues and what type of character he’ll bring to an NBA franchise. Saunders said with Adelman’s guidance and a veteran group of assistants, this might be one of the better places he could have landed.

Adelman is a teacher, Saunders said, and he’s a guy who will show young players how to play unselfishly and part of a team.

What Muhammad can bring is his athletic ability and a willingness to absorb those lessons.

It’s early, but he seems up to the task.

“We’re not going to let them off the hook,” Saunders said. “We have high expectations of what we want on and off the court.”

Muhammad said he’s looking forward to learning from the more experienced players on this team and try to fill in any gaps he can along the way—while bringing an unselfish brand of basketball.

"That's one thing I've really been working on. And you figure it out that it makes life easier. When you're more unselfish the floor opens more for yourself and for your teammates. (I'm) really concentrating on that and I think it's been working out really well for myself. "

Dieng, meanwhile, is a player who Saunders said came highly recommended from Louisville Rick Pitino. Pitino assessment of Dieng’s improvement over his time in college was incredible, and that leads Saunders to believe there is still very much upside ahead.

He’s a winner, and he brings the rim-protecting presence the Wolves so desperately wanted to address in this year’s Draft. And compared to other bigs who were available in this year’s class, Dieng is seemingly ready to take a spot in the front court rotation right away.

It's been great. Like I said I always believed in this and I wanted to be a professional basketball player one day...I'll do whatever it takes to be a good basketball player.... I'm excited to work with all these guys."

Both players come from backgrounds of winning, and both have a track record for being dedicated to their craft in the gym. That’s what the Wolves are banking on moving forward.

“I’m a guy who likes to outwork the next one,” Muhammad said. “Coach Adelman likes hard workers, and that’s something I can bring for us.”

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