When the Minnesota Timberwolves selected Gorgui Dieng (via Utah) with the 21st pick in the 2013 Draft, it was expected that he would be a project. His offensive game was thought to be a bit raw and he was mostly known simply because he was on the Louisville Cardinals, the 2013 National Champions.
Right away, things played out like most thought they would.
Dieng didn't receive much playing time in games, but he was putting in work during practices day-after-day with former All-Star and big-man guru Jack Sikma.
So when Nikola Pekovic went down with ankle issues last season, Dieng was ready. He appeared in 60 games (starting 15). His numbers for the season don’t look all that impressive: 4.8 points and five rebounds per game. But when you look at his game logs, those numbers have some extra pop to them. Dieng had two games with 20 points and 20 rebounds, nine double-doubles and 10 games with 10 or more rebounds.
He was voted to the All-Rookie Second Team by NBA media members.
Dieng went into the 2014-15 season as Minnesota’s back-up center, but with Pekovic’s injury history, he’s had to be a rock for the Wolves inside.
Pekovic has missed a majority of the season with both ankle and wrist injuries, and while it’d be a lie to say the team didn't miss him, the Wolves were comfortable turning to the 25-year-old from Senegal.
"He’s been real good,” Boston center Kelly Olynyk, who was also drafted in 2013, said. “He’s getting better and better – more aggressive. He’s got an opportunity over there, which is great… He can be a factor on both ends of the court.”
This season, Dieng’s appeared in 53 games (starting 38) while averaging 9.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.7 blocks per game.
That led to him being recognized as a representative for the World Team at the Rising Stars Competition this year.
“Last year, I didn’t get a chance to make it and that was kind of bothering me a little bit,” Dieng said. “But this year, it was one of my goals.”
Dieng played 19 minutes and scored 14 points in his team’s 121-112 win over the USA squad.
His development up to this point isn’t luck. It’s hard work and dedication. He’s been honest in explaining that he enjoys watching film on guys like Dirk Nowitzki (he’s done the “Dirk” shot more than once), Tim Duncan (a fan of his rip-through move) and LaMarcus Aldridge (appreciates his jumper).
“He’s been great,” Duncan said on Friday afternoon in New York. “I really like his game. He’s really steady, very deliberate. He’s improved his midrange jump shot. He’s solid defensively. He doesn't try to get outside of himself. I really like what I’ve seen from him.”
While nobody will confuse Dieng with any of those three guys, he’s incorporated parts of their games into his. Dieng truly is a student of the game.
“I’m just looking up to everyone who can be a good role model,” Dieng said. “I watch everyone that can be a good role model to me.
Dieng isn’t eligible to make another Rising Stars Competition, but he does one day hope to represent the Wolves in the Sunday game. This season, Dieng has mixed the mid-range jump shot into his game and has become a much better passer. Those are solid things to build on as he moves forward in his career. There are things to work on, sure, but the Wolves have to be very please where Dieng is at with his career at this point.
“I’m really proud of myself. I came from a long way just to be here,” Dieng said. “I haven’t reached my potential yet. I just need to keep working.”