Gorgui Dieng is halfway through his second season with the Wolves, and it’s still hard to tell if the Senegal native is generally overrated or underrated as a player. According to some numbers, Dieng is silently becoming one of the best up-and-coming centers in the league, but other statistics tell a different story.
Since November 15th, Wolves’ starting center Nikola Pekovic has been sidelined with an ankle injury. Pekovic’s absence finally gave Dieng a chance to prove he is more than just a mere backup.
His per-game stat line may not be very flashy, but Dieng’s 18.58 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is right up there with stars like Dwight Howard (18.78) and DeAndre Jordan (19.35). Dieng has also proven to be the rim protector Pekovic never could be (as seen in the video below), averaging 1.7 blocks per game. In nine games this season, Pekovic only recorded two blocks.
For those who have followed his career, Dieng’s recent success is not surprising. The second-year big man made headlines this summer when he played for Senegal in the FIBA World Cup, averaging 16 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game.
Unfortunately, Dieng underperformed when Senegal faced it’s toughest opponent, Spain. Dieng shot an inefficient 1-for-9, accumulating only 6 points. He also recorded seven rebounds and zero blocks, both of which were personal worsts in the tournament. Of course, Spain’s rotation includes Marc and Pau Gasol, as well as Serge Ibaka, so his struggles weren’t really a surprise.
Dieng’s potential is evident, but he struggles with consistency. On January 1st, in a 110-101 loss to the Denver Nuggets, he had the best game of his young career, racking up 22 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. But sometimes he looks inept, like on January 9th, in a 98-84 defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks, he only had six points and four rebounds in 28 minutes.
Jan 7, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng (5) goes up against Phoenix Suns centerMiles Plumlee
(22) in the third quarter at Target Center. The Suns win 113-111. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Many Timberwolves fans and writers will tell you Dieng is the team’s defensive anchor, but advanced statistics show he may be an overrated defender. According to 82games.com, when guarding centers, Dieng’s opponents have a 20 PER. This jives with the thinking that he’s a better help defender than he is guarding larger centers one-on-one in the post.
And what is perhaps the most perplexing (telling?) stat to consider, the Wolves are actually allowing 4.7 more points with Dieng on the court per 100 possessions. On offense, the Wolves continue to struggle with Dieng on the floor, averaging 1.3 less points per 100 possessions than with him off the court.
Unfortunately, Dieng is stuck in a bad spot due to his size. At 6’11” and 245 lbs, he is slightly undersized for a center, but he lacks the lateral quickness to guard power forwards. Per 48 minutes, when guarding power forwards, Dieng’s opponents have a whopping 37.8 PER. To put that number in perspective, a PER of 30 or higher categorizes the player as an MVP candidate.
Dieng’s struggles on defense could be a contributing factor as to why the Wolves currently rank dead last among all NBA teams in defensive efficiency, per ESPN’s Hollinger stats.
Obviously, at only 25 years old, and with less than two years of experience under his belt, Dieng has plenty of time to perfect his game. Sometimes judging a player on a terrible team strictly by the numbers can be a bit misleading.
Rajon Rondo recently made headlines when he admitted that he “hasn’t played defense in a couple years.” Rondo’s recent admission proves sometimes defensive players can lose motivation when they’re stuck on a losing squad.
Going by the numbers, Dieng has greatly underperformed. Like my grandfather always says, “numbers never lie, but they don’t always tell the whole truth.”
All stats are courtesy of ESPN, unless otherwise noted
Follow me on Twitter: @JosephZapataIII
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