Minnesota Timberwolves: Gorgui Dieng needs more minutes

SHENZHEN, CHINA - OCTOBER 05: Gorgui Dieng /

As was evident in the 120-102 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, the Minnesota Timberwolves need more of Gorgui Dieng on the court.

Once Taj Gibson signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves in free agency, it was evident that Gorgui Dieng would lose some minutes to incorporate the veteran into the lineup. That being said, the center probably wasn’t expecting to play half as much as he did last season. Fast forward a few months later though and that’s definitely been the case for the Senegal native.

Specifically, Dieng averaged only 15.3 minutes prior to the latest game versus the New Orleans Pelicans. Quite a drop in minutes from one year ago when he played 32.4 minutes per game. As a result, Dieng has seen his numbers plummet to 5.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 0.1 blocks per game. This after two seasons putting up at least 10 points, seven rebounds and one block per game.

Considering Minnesota’s struggles against big men this season, there’s reason to believe more minutes for the 6-foot-11 center would be a great solution to the problem. In all likelihood, he’s the best defender among the centers, so it only makes sense to have him on the court against talented post players.

Against the New Orleans Pelicans, he proved just that as he played an outstanding defensive game, while playing extremely well on the offensive end. In the victory, Dieng recorded 19 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals in a season-high 37 minutes of action. Of course, this was largely due to foul trouble from Karl-Anthony Towns, but nevertheless, Dieng took advantage of his opportunity.

In particular, he shut down arguably the best center in the league as DeMarcus Cousins finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds. On the surface, this looks like a good game. Yet, for Cousins, this was a relatively quiet game considering he averages 25.5 points and 12.6 rebounds. In other words, Dieng kept the big man in check for most of the game, especially with Towns only playing 21 minutes with foul trouble.

After the game, you couldn’t help but wonder why Dieng hasn’t played more than he has this season. I mean, Tom Thibodeau does have a history of playing his starters big minutes, but it’s hard to justify playing Dieng limited minutes especially after making all 82 starts last year. Additionally, Towns has struggled against massive centers, so naturally, you’d think Thibodeau would look Dieng’s direction to help KAT out on the court.

As unfortunate as it may be, Towns is simply not a great defender and it’s not likely to get too much better over the rest of the season. With this in mind, Thibodeau should use Dieng more to help take some of the defensive pressure off KAT. As good of a defender as Gibson is, he just doesn’t have the ideal size to match up against an opposing team’s center. In result, Towns is often forced to guard the biggest man on the court.

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Depending on the matchup, Towns can have his good days defensively, but he also has his bad days. Particularly, those bad days have come against some of the best centers. In particular, Towns has struggled matching up against the likes of Dwight Howard, Andre Drummond and Hassan Whiteside.

Sure, everyone is going to have their bad games against those players, but the fact of the matter is, he’s consistently struggled facing players of their caliber. While Dieng isn’t always going to shut down those players either, he’s a more seasoned player to throw in against them defensively. The Pelicans game was living proof of that.

Moving forward, it’s clear Dieng needs more minutes. 15 minutes a game is simply not enough, especially against teams with top-notch centers. Even if it takes minutes away from Gibson, he’s no spring chicken either, so there’s no reason he should have to play around 40 minutes in any game. In the long run, giving Gibson more rest on the bench is only going to benefit the veteran as well.

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All things considered, Dieng may be the most valuable player on the Wolves’ bench, so it’s time for Thibodeau to increase his minutes on the court. Ideally, I’d like to see Dieng garner 20-25 minutes off the bench with the occasional start against bigger lineups. In the end, this is only going to help the Wolves become a better team.