Gorgui Dieng giving reason not to check out on Wolves' season yet
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Six games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with only 15 games to go, the Minnesota Timberwolves are in all likelihood in the midst a slow march to their 10th straight season without a postseason appearance.
The Wolves' fan base is again ripe with disappointment and apathy.
But rookie Gorgui Dieng is providing a reason not to check out on the season just yet. The Wolves' last three games have given way to the sudden emergence of Dieng.
Up until last Sunday, playing time had been a sparse commodity for the rookie center, who had struggled to adapt to the NBA level. However, that changed when Nikola Pekovic's ongoing bout with an ankle injury propelled Dieng into the starting lineup for the first time.
Starting with a 12-point, 11-rebound performance against Sacramento, Dieng has put together an impressive week with a trio of double-doubles, averaging 14.6 points and 14.3 rebounds.
Against the Houston Rockets on Thursday, Dieng became the first rookie in Wolves history and only the fourth rookie in the last 20 years to have a 20-point, 20-rebound game, with a 22-point, 21-rebound outburst.
His 21 rebounds were not only the most ever by a Wolves rookie, but also the most by a Minnesota player this year.
Yes, Dieng put up these numbers with Sacramento lacking big man DeMarcus Cousins and Houston without Dwight Howard. But Dieng's recent breakout still deserves attention, especially after having seen very little from him in the first three-fourths of the season.
Inevitably, complaints about why Dieng didn't see more minutes earlier in the year will arise. Could we have seen a breakthrough like this from Dieng sooner? Possibly, but the rawness and rookie growing pains he had battled to get rid of make for a strong counterargument.
Dieng's minutes have been notably limited this season (prior to Sunday, he ranked 21st among the 27 active first round picks from the 2013 draft), but he still had sporadic opportunities to begin establishing himself.
The Wolves and coach Rick Adelman had repeatedly talked about Dieng's potential but were still waiting for that potential to be transformed into production.
Given the chance at sustained playing time as the Wolves' only healthy center, Dieng is finally drawing attention. And with Pekovic's status up in the air, the spotlight may remain on the rookie for a while longer.