Gorgui Dieng has won the Dunking With Wolves 2016-17 Timberwolves’ Defensive Player of the Year award.
Minnesota Timberwolves’ Defensive Player of the Year award may seem meaningless to many fans. The defense has been putrid all season. Minus Gorgui Dieng.
Despite hiring a defensive savant in Tom Thibodeau, the team had a bottom five defensive rating for the season. You could put the blame on several players on this roster. However, Gorgui Dieng should not be one of them.
Dieng’s defensive performance has gone largely underappreciated. Everyone is focused on the young core’s defensive shortcomings instead.
It’s a shame, because not only has he been the best defender on this team, he’s also been among the best in the league.
He might not get a load of steals or blocks, but he’s effective. The numbers heavily back this claim. Gorgui Dieng ranks ninth in real defensive plus minus in the league, ranking ahead of DeAndre Jordan, Paul Millsap and many other reputable defenders.
To put it in perspective, the closest teammate to matching that number, Ricky Rubio, ranks more than 70 spots below him. The other starters don’t even rank in the top 200. The defense might be terrible, but take Gorgui off the floor and it sinks to dead last.
All these numbers do is confirm the eye test. When you tuned in to a Minnesota Timberwolves game you saw him guarding the other team’s best big man and do it effectively too.
While he may not be as athletically gifted as his younger counterparts, his length allows him to properly cover pick and rolls.
With a 7’3.5″ wingspan and a 9’3.5″ standing reach, he can constantly disrupt the the offense as well.
You can see him regularly yelling and communicating on defense, which is critical for big men. Unlike his fellow starters, rarely do you see Gorgui missing a rotation or suffer from mental lapses. It’s why Tom Thibodeau has grown so fond of him. He’s also been tasked many times with covering the young starters mistakes, which is no easy feat.
Ever since Gorgui Dieng has replaced Kevin Garnett in the starting lineup last year, it has allowed Karl-Anthony Towns to interchange with Dieng. All though Dieng spends most of his time at power forard, it allows Towns to get out of the paint and not take so much wear and tear on his body.
Dieng’s game is also expanding on both ends of the floor. Throughout the season he was learning to play more instinctively as he grew comfortable in Thibodeau’s scheme.
It is important to remember that this is the third coach the Timberwolves’ have had in as many seasons. That often slows the development of younger players as they begin to think on defense instead of reacting. As Dieng, and the rest of the Minnesota Timberwolves, get more comfortable in Thibodeau’s system you will begin to see better results.
Sadly Dieng’s production hasn’t been enough for the Wolves to be anything but an abysmal defensive team. As a result, Gorgui Dieng won’t get any credit for his play on that end this season.
However, as the young players learn to play in Thibodeau’s schemes, the defense will improve and the Minnesota Timberwolves will start winning again.
Only then people will notice what Gorgui Dieng has shown us all season long, he’s one of the best defenders in the league.