By: Drew Mahowald
Gorgui Dieng isn't the player that comes to mind first when the average NBA fan thinks of the Minnesota Timberwolves. It's probably Karl-Anthony Towns or Andrew Wiggins, and rightfully so. Dieng isn't dropping 20+ points per game like those guys are.
Despite this, Dieng has solidified himself as a starting-caliber center in the NBA, especially given his performance since 2016 All-Star Weekend.
When Kevin Garnett went down with an injury a couple of months ago, interim head coach Sam Mitchell tagged Dieng as the new starting big man to team up with rookie phenom Karl-Anthony Towns. The two have not only gelled brilliantly together as a 1-2 punch in the frontcourt, but they've also registered the best net rating (8.1) among all two-man lineups the Wolves have thrown on the floor since the All-Star break.
For those who don't know, NBA.com's offensive rating and defensive rating measurements are an excellent way to track how a team performs when a certain player or group of players is on the court. Offensive rating is the number of points scored per 100 possessions while the given player or players are on the court, while defensive rating is the number of points allowed per 100 possessions while the given player or players are on the floor. From these two measurements, we can calculate a net rating, which is the difference between offensive and defensive rating. A higher offensive rating will result in a positive net rating, while a higher defensive rating will result in a negative net rating.
Since the All-Star break, Dieng's game has dramatically improved. While some of this is due simply to playing more minutes with Ricky Rubio and the starting unit, the numbers suggest that playing with Dieng, more so than Rubio, is elevating the performance of other players.
For instance, including the aforementioned Dieng and Towns duo, four of the top five Wolves two-man lineups since the All-Star break include Dieng.
BEST NET RATING, TWO-MAN LINEUPS, SINCE ALL-STAR BREAK
1) Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns - 8.1
2) Gorgui Dieng and Ricky Rubio - 7.2
3) Gorgui Dieng and Zach LaVine - 7.1
4) Shabazz Muhammad and Ricky Rubio - 6.9
5) Gorgui Dieng and Andrew Wiggins - 6.5
Based on those numbers, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Dieng is a member of Minnesota's top six three-man lineups.
BEST NET RATING, THREE-MAN LINEUPS, SINCE ALL-STAR BREAK
1) Gorgui Dieng, Zach LaVine and Karl-Anthony Towns - 9.4
2) Gorgui Dieng, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins - 8.3
3) Gorgui Dieng, Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins - 7.7
4) Gorgui Dieng, Zach LaVine and Ricky Rubio - 7.7
5) Gorgui Dieng, Karl-Anthony Towns and Ricky Rubio - 7.0
6) Gorgui Dieng, Ricky Rubio and Andrew Wiggins - 6.6
So, what do all these numbers mean?
Most notably, these numbers indicate how great Dieng fits with this group of players, specifically his partners in the starting lineup (Rubio, LaVine, Wiggins and Towns). Dieng is enough of a threat offensively to take some heat off of Towns and Wiggins, while also being able to stretch the floor a bit and make room for the unizard (unicorn and wizard mix) that is Ricky Rubio. In simpler terms, Dieng's presence on the floor has made the Wolves a much better team.
Dieng's efficiency on the offensive end is the main reason for this. His mid-range jump shot is nearly automatic, or so it seems when watching it in a game. He has become one of the very few players in the NBA whose shots are actually expected to go in when released. He's that good. Check the shot chart and see for yourself.
Look at all that green.
Dieng's effectiveness in the mid-range area isn't the only way he puts the orange in the basket. He has a pump fake that looks identical to his jump shot that often gets defenders in the air, allowing him to get to the rim. Additionally, Dieng's post moves have improved immensely since last season. His shooting numbers in and around the paint are evidence enough of his efficient scoring.
While the defense is still a work in progress -- as it is with the entire team -- all the reasons noted above give plenty of hope for Dieng being a solid complimentary starting big next to Towns. Their games compliment each other extremely well, and they've already developed a smooth chemistry. The two of them have already given plenty of opponents fits as a 1-2 punch even though they have only started a miniscule amount of games together.
The numbers don't lie -- Gorgui Dieng is a valuable asset moving forward. His performance since joining the starting lineup right around the All-Star break speaks for itself. Despite not lighting up the points column every night, his style of play is an excellent compliment to the young core that Flip Saunders put together. I see no reason why Big G can't team with Towns to become one of the better big man duos in the NBA and -- better yet -- help the Wolves make some serious noise in the Western Conference over the next decade.
*All stats used are from nba.com/stats and are accurate as of March 29, 2016.*
Drew Mahowald is the lead writer at On The Prowl. He also serves as an assistant editor at NFCN Barroom. You can follow him on Twitter at @DrewMahowald.