Minnesota Timberwolves big man Gorgui Dieng has two more seasons remaining on his contract. What can the Wolves’ do to maximize a player that has fallen out of the rotation?
The abundance of big men on this year’s team and the shifting trends in the league have made Dieng’s minutes expendable and his future with the team uncertain. That future, however, may be a primary focus as the roster undergoes a massive overhaul this offseason.
Only four big men are currently under contract for the Wolves next season: Karl-Anthony Towns, Dario Saric, Keith Bates-Diop, and Gorgui Dieng. Towns and Saric are the expected starters for the 2019-20 season, while Bates-Diop is making a case to be a rotational player next year, perhaps splitting minutes between the 3 and the 4.
Gorgui Dieng still has two seasons and over $33 million remaining on the contract given to him by Tom Thibodeau in fall of 2017.
At the time, the contract looked like a favorable one for both for sides and made Dieng a key part of the team’s future. Unfortunately, that contract has become a critical factor to the Timberwolves’ salary cap problem. Over 15 percent of the team’s salary cap space is currently locked up in a player that isn’t even playing minutes.
This is a problem that must be solved quickly in order for Minnesota to build a team around Towns in the short-term. Let’s talk through three options related to Dieng’s future with the Wolves.
MAKE IT WORK
Option No. 1 for Minnesota is to head into next season with Gorgui Dieng as the primary big man off the bench.
In the past, Dieng has shown flashes of starter-quality talent with his ability to grab rebounds, block shots, and efficiently make mid-range jumpers. From 2014 to 2017, Dieng peaked at 8.3 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, and 10.1 points per game in extended minutes. Unfortunately, his numbers have dropped across the board as his role on the team and overall effectiveness have decreased.
The Timberwolves rank 15th in the NBA in rebounding and 14th in blocked shots this season, with each of these numbers greatly inflated by Karl-Anthony Towns. The team would benefit greatly if Dieng can regain his old form and become the shot-blocking presence down low that the Timberwolves sorely need.
This, of course, would impact the rest of the rotation, namely Saric and Bates-Diop, and also impact the team’s decision-making in free agency. Both Taj Gibson and Anthony Tolliver are free agents, and choosing Dieng over either of those players could be a tough call to make.
MAKE A TRADE
Option No. 2 is to find a trade partner for Dieng. A strong argument can be made that this is the best option for both parties as Minnesota could clear cap space for free agents that fit well alongside Towns, while a change of scenery may help revitalize Dieng’s once promising career outlook.
While this option may benefit both sides the most, it is also not likely to happen this offseason; Minnesota would almost certainly have to attach a first-round pick in order to unload the final two years of Dieng’s contract.
Unless the Timberwolves are able to find a non-playoff team with cap space who is willing to take a mix of protected picks and second-rounders, then a trade involving Dieng is unlikely at best.
MAKE IT RAIN
The third option is for Gorgui Dieng to spend the offseason molding his game to best fit the Timberwolves’ needs and scheme.
Minnesota lacks 3-point shooting and will struggle to fix that problem through free agency due to their lack of cap space. Dieng has proven to be a capable shot-maker at times, reaching a career-high of 37.2 percent from downtown during the 2016-17 season.
Perhaps more impressively, Gorgui Dieng was able to succeed in a larger role with Senegal during the 2019 FIBA World Qualifiers, posting an impressive 21.7 points per game thanks in part to shooting over 47 percent from long-range.
While he’s struggled in his limited playing time this season, Dieng is a career 35.5 percent 3-point shooter from the corners, and the Wolves could certainly play to that strength with Dieng on the floor if he continues to improve in that area.
Gorgui Dieng would be well-served to improve upon his 3-point shooting in the hopes of seeing those numbers with Senegal translate to success on the NBA stage. A floor-spacer next to Towns is the exact piece Minnesota needs and the solution may already be on the roster.
No matter the option Minnesota decides to pursue, Gorgui Dieng’s future will be an important part of the puzzle for the Timberwolves’ front office to solve this offseason.