By: Dan Slaubaugh - 5 minute read
With training camp just two weeks away, basketball activities are close to ramping up in the Twin Cities.
Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau still has some work to do filling out the back end of the roster. Previously stating he’d like to keep the 15th roster spot open for flexibility, he can sign up to four more guaranteed contracts if he so pleases.
We can pencil Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler, and Karl-Anthony Towns into the starting lineup with Tyus Jones, Jamal Crawford, and an incoming free agent (Anthony Morrow?) coming off the bench. What we aren’t sure of is who starts at the power forward position between Taj Gibson and Gorgui Dieng.
This being the case, which player makes the most logical sense starting at power forward for the Timberwolves? Let’s take a look.
The case for Taj Gibson
With a defensive rating of 112.6, the three-man lineup of Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, and Karl-Anthony Towns ranked 11th worst in the NBA. The Wolves clearly need capable defenders in their starting lineup. Taj Gibson was brought in to be just that.
But it doesn’t just end there. Gibson was also brought in to help accelerate the defensive growth of the young pups – particularly third-year center Karl-Anthony Towns. In KAT’s first year with the Wolves, he had the privilege of going to war with one of the greatest defenders of all time in Kevin Garnett. As a result, KAT had a much better sense of what he needed to do defensively.
Gibson isn’t expected to be near the level of defender Garnett was - even during his last years in Minnesota - but he is expected to help improve the communication as a whole. For the majority of last season, Gorgui Dieng was the only one on the floor who would talk on defense; communicating on defense is crucial to team success. Gibson, who comes to Minneapolis with a complete understanding of Thibodeau’s defensive concepts, will help tremendously in that area.
Earlier this summer, Sports Illustrated NBA Writer Rob Mahoney touched on the impact Gibson will bring to the Wolves defensively:
“Players who don’t quite know where to be or what to do can look to Gibson or ask him; teammates past and present respect him almost universally for the way he contributes to organizational culture. It helps, too, that he brings it. Gibson has his limitations, but he always plays with an admirable edge and intelligence. It’s hard not to respect a veteran so competitive (just ask the forwards he bullies) and yet so self-aware.”
If Minnesota can even sniff the league average on defense, they could be a real and immediate problem. Gibson’s toughness and versatility on defense will go a long way in accomplishing that feat.
Gibson’s offensive arsenal is pretty basic, mostly consisting of back-to-the-basket post moves. If he can use his toughness to bully smaller defenders in the post while staying out of KAT’s way, Gibson will do just fine in Minnesota’s offense.
The case for Gorgui Dieng
By all means, Gorgui Dieng is not a poor defender. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Wolves defended better (111.0 DRtg on, 114.1 DRtg off) with Dieng on the court last season.
In addition to being a competent defender, Dieng provides the ability to stretch the floor. This would not only help the offense in general, but specifically KAT who deserves space in the post when he pleases.
Dieng started all 82 games last season, putting up a steady 10.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists on 50%/37%/81% shooting splits. In his season review of Gorgui, A Wolf Among Wolves’ William Bohl noted those numbers don’t exactly jump off the page; but rather providing value in ways the traditional stat line doesn’t quite capture.
“Dieng posted the 2nd-best Net Rating among the team’s regulars, finishing only behind Tyus Jones in that category. Gorgui’s usage rate (in other words, possessions he shot or turned over the ball) ranked 3rd-lowest on the team, but he found other ways to contribute. He led the team in screen assists, charges taken, kicked balls, and contested shots per game. His assist ratio (in other words, what percentage of his team’s baskets he assisted on when he was on the floor) was 15.8%, ahead of Nemanja Bjelica, Zach LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins . He doesn’t have the reputation of a “facilitator,” but is a smart passer who does other little things to free up teammates for buckets.”
Offensively, Minnesota’s starting unit would benefit more from Dieng on the floor more than Gibson.
It’s important to remember that both Dieng and Gibson will play plenty regardless of who starts, forming a quality three-man rotation up front with Towns.
Having said that, Taj Gibson should be the starting power forward on opening night. The offense – spearheaded by three dynamic scorers in Towns, Butler, and Wiggins – is going to score plenty. The Wolves main focus this season needs to be improving the defense. Gibson in the starting lineup gives the team a better chance at fulfilling that focus.
Furthermore, the second unit could be in a heap of trouble if Jamal Crawford doesn’t produce the way we hope. Adding Dieng into the mix would only help ease the scoring load for Crawford and the entire second unit. Dieng built real chemistry with LaVine last year. Crawford and LaVine have similar playing styles, so why can’t Dieng and Crawford develop a chemistry similar to what Dieng had with LaVine?
At the end of the day, Gorgui Dieng just isn’t the solution to start at power forward for the Wolves. Tom Thibodeau didn’t pay Taj Gibson 14 million dollars per year to come off the bench. I barely mustered a B in my 100 level Philosophy class (Traditional Logics) freshman year, but I’m confident saying that starting Gibson and bringing Dieng off the bench simply makes the most logical sense for a team trying to create a balanced attack and a well-rounded roster.