We Should Probably Start Talking About How Gorgui Dieng Is Making 3s Now
When Gorgui Dieng entered the NBA in 2013-14, big men didn’t need to be able to shoot from deep.
The year before Dieng entered the league, Spencer Hawes led centers with 31 made 3-pointers. That's 0.37 3-pointers made per game.
Are we sure that wasn’t 30 years ago?
Fast-forward to the, I guess, modern NBA.
Last season, there were 20 centers who eclipsed 31 made 3-pointers, led by Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez, who made 187.
Lopez making 187 3-pointers in the season is the equivalent of your 1995 Grand Prix that has everyone pointing for the wrong reasons (different door color and rust dragging on the road) suddenly turning into a Tesla. In Lopez’s first eight seasons in the league, he attempted just 31 3-pointers. But he changed his game and he's back to being one of the best centers in the NBA.
Back to Dieng.
During Dieng’s three-year career at Louisville from 2010-13, he attempted just three 3-pointers. Making one. While I don’t have video of it, I’m just going to assume he banked it in.
The story on Dieng coming out of Louisville, at least offensively, was that he was good near the rim, and could hit the midrange jumper. He worked with assistant coach Jack Sikma during his rookie season with the Wolves and worked on his game, but it was pretty much limited to 17 feet.
Let’s break Dieng’s career down in three parts.
In his first two seasons in the league, Dieng appeared in 113 games and attempted just seven 3-pointers, making two.
In Dieng’s next two seasons, he played in 82 games each season and set new career highs for minutes played. While he attempted 63 3-pointers over that stretch, that was still less than half-an-attempt per game. Dieng made 19 of those attempts. A respectable amount, but not enough for anyone to be like, “Oh yeah. That Gorgui Dieng sure can shoot from deep!”
Now, the next two seasons of Dieng’s career were probably the toughest of his career. Dieng was in and out of the rotation and failed to play more than 2,000 minutes in either season, something he had done in each of the previous two seasons. In 2017-18 and 2018-19, Dieng played a combined 2,364 minutes, nearly 300 minutes less than he played during the entire 2016-17 season.
But when Dieng did play, he showed more confidence from behind the 3-point line. He drilled 38 of 107 3-pointers in those two seasons. When Dieng was on the court, he took the 3-pointers almost as if to say, “Look what I’ve been working on! You can't ignore this!"
Too quickly in the NBA, players are written off after the game seems to pass them by. But we forget that these players got here in the first place by working harder than anyone. And of course, some God-given talent certainly does help.
After the 2018-19 season, Dieng asked coach Ryan Saunders what he should work on to earn a spot in the rotation. Saunders told him to work on his 3-point shot. That’s exactly what Dieng did. He didn’t focus on shooting from a single spot, but just anywhere from deep. Why limit yourself to one specific area?
The Wolves signed Noah Vonleh and Jordan Bell this offseason, in theory, to be rotational players behind Karl-Anthony Towns. It turns out, that player best suited to play behind Towns was already on the team’s roster.
Dieng played sparingly to start the season. In the first 16 games, Dieng was held out of four of them and exceeded 20 minutes just once. That’s when Towns was out due to suspension against the Wizards. Dieng had a ho-hum 18 points, going 2-for-2 from the 3-point line in a blowout win.
So when Towns went out with a knee injury on Dec. 13, there wasn't a real question on who would replace him in the lineup. In Towns' absence, Dieng has stepped in and performed beyond what anyone, besides himself (Dieng is a confident guy), expected.
Gorgui Dieng first 2 seasons in NBA:
3,000+ minutes played, 1-for-7 from 3-point line
Gorgui Dieng in 2019-20:
627 minutes played, 36-for-93 from 3-point line pic.twitter.com/Z17gx29jQY
— Kyle Ratke (@Kyle_Ratke) January 14, 2020
During that 14-game stretch, Dieng has averaged 12.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game while shooting 43.1 percent from the 3-point line on 4.3 attempts per game.
On the season, Dieng is shooting 38.7 percent from the 3-point line, shooting 36-for-93. That percentage ranks 51st in the NBA and seventh among centers.
Dieng changed his game to keep up with the NBA and to regain a spot in the Timberwolves’ rotation.
And for those of us who have watched Dieng throughout this process, it’s clear that a professional like him deserves all the success heading his direction.