It’s too late for Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Gorgui Dieng to make a bid for the Rookie of the Year award, but Dieng has been one of the NBA’s biggest surprises over the last week while getting his first regular playing time.
Dieng made his first NBA start March 16 in a win over the Sacramento Kings and responded with his first career double-double, playing a career-high 37 minutes and finishing with 12 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots.
Considering Dieng had only played in 42 of Minnesota’s first 64 games and averaged just 6.5 minutes per game, one could just write it off to being … ummmm … very well-rested, at a time of the season when the minutes are starting to pile up.
Or it could have been an anomaly … except that Dieng followed up his first career double-double with his second career double-double three nights later at Dallas when the Timberwolves beat the Mavericks 123-122 in overtime. Dieng was 5-for-5 from the floor and finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
That didn’t prepare anyone for what came next. In a blowout loss at Houston the next night, Dieng trumped his first two career double-doubles with his first career 20-20 game, going for 22 points and 21 rebounds in 38 minutes, a new career high.
After a pedestrian six point and nine rebounds in 25 minutes against the Suns on Sunday, Dieng played 37 minutes at Memphis Monday night and finished with 11 points and 17 boards.
Through five NBA starts, Dieng has posted averages of 12.2 points, 13.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 32.4 minutes a game while hitting 56.1 percent from the floor.
He might be showing why new Timberwolves personnel boss Flip Saunders was willing to ship Trey Burke, the No. 9 overall pick last June, for Nos. 14 and 21.
No. 14 was Shabazz Muhammad, who has only started to get some consistent run over the last month. No. 21 was the Senegalese center from Louisville who was such a vital cog to the Cardinals’ national championship run last season because of his ability to protect the paint.
But even so, the rebounding has come as something of a surprise, considering Dieng averaged 9.4 boards per game in 31.1 minutes for Louisville last season, although that average bumped up to 10.8 per game in conference play.
Back to that 20-20 game for a moment, though. It was just the 15th 20-20 game of the season and he’s keeping some pretty good company on that list:
- Nikola Vucevic, Orlando (Nov. 6 against the Clippers)
- LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland (three times—Nov. 23 at Golden State, Dec. 12 against Houston and Jan. 20 at Houston)
- Tim Duncan, San Antonio (Dec. 2 against Atlanta)
- Dwight Howard, Houston (Dec. 8 against Orlando)
- Al Jefferson, Charlotte (Dec. 28 at Atlanta)
- Jared Sullinger, Boston (Jan. 15 against Toronto)
- Carmelo Anthony, New York (Jan. 17 against the Clippers)
- Zach Randolph, Memphis (Jan. 20 against New Orleans)
- Andre Drummond, Detroit (Jan. 24 against New Orleans)
- Tobias Harris, Orlando (Jan. 24 against the Lakers)
- DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento (March 9 at Brooklyn)
- Anthony Davis, New Orleans (March 16 against Boston)
- Gorgui Dieng, Minnesota (March 20 at Houston)
And since 1985-86, there have only been 28 20-20 games posted by rookies: Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Greg Anderson, J.R. Reid, David Robinson, Derrick Coleman, Dikembe Mutombo (2), Larry Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal (8), Alonzo Mourning, Shawn Bradley, Chris Webber, Joe Smith (2), Duncan, Maurice Taylor, DeJuan Blair (2) and Dieng. (Not sure which is more surprising about that list—Bradley’s presence on it or DeJuan Blair being one of just four guys on the list to have more than one.)
It’s probably premature to start penciling Gorgui Dieng in for All-Star Weekend appearances or a spot in Springfield, but in a season that’s been pretty sparse for rookie highlights, Dieng’s last week or so sticks out.
As always, the players selected for the NBA Best of the Week must play at least 25 minutes a game in more than half of their team’s games (rookies must average 20 minutes a game to be selected).
All statistical information from NBA.com/Stats.