Keita Bates-Diop Shows His Growth In First NBA Start
Saturday night was a night of firsts for Keita Bates-Diop.
In the Wolves’ 135-130 OT victory over the Wizards, Bates-Diop got his first NBA start. He also reached double digits for the first time in his career. To top it off he played 36 minutes—by far the most he’s ever played in a game.
Bates-Diop entered the starting lineup because Andrew Wiggins was on the bench with a quad contusion and he took advantage of the opportunity. He finished with 12 points including a three-pointer, five rebounds, two assists and a steal. He also spent a lot of the game guarding the Wizards’ best player in Bradley Beal. Beal got his, but Bates-Diop’s length and good positioning clearly bothered the All-Star guard at times. As Bates-Diop gets more experience guarding high-level players, he could really become something special on the defensive end.
Something that has been mentioned a lot at Wolves practice lately has been Bates-Diop’s cutting. That was on full display Saturday night. Bates-Diop is a solid passer, and he’s great at moving immediately after he passes. As his defender turns his head to see where the ball is going, Bates-Diop is already looking for his next opportunity to get open. It’s a skill that will serve him well.
Interim Head Coach Ryan Saunders trusts Bates-Diop and that was obvious in this game. Saunders consistently describes his rookie forward as “cerebral” and is quick to point out how smart he is on the court. Veteran Luol Deng said after practice on Friday that he’s a big fan of Bates-Diop’s game. It’s obvious that Bates-Diop has a lot of fans inside the Wolves organization. He undoubtedly has more fans in the state of Minnesota as well.
Bates-Diop is an easy player to root for. He’s a hard worker, a fun player to watch and a great rebounder for a wing. He makes the right decision the majority of the time and he finds ways to make an impact even when the ball isn’t in his hand. If you were to design a blueprint for success for a rookie that doesn’t have go-to scoring ability yet, that would be it.
This may have been Bates-Diop’s first NBA start, but you get the feeling it won’t be his last. If he keeps putting in the work like he has been, Bates-Diop has a bright future.