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Updated: April 8th, 2014 11:32pm
Rookie Gorgui Dieng continues to build off his late-season surge

Rookie Gorgui Dieng continues to build off his late-season surge

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS --  Just over three weeks since Gorgui Dieng's first career start, and the rookie center continues to provide reasons his recent breakthrough shouldn't be dismissed as just a small aberration on a Minnesota Timberwolves' squad starved for positive late-season storylines.

What Dieng has done in the 13 games since he started for the first time on March 16 has been undoubtedly impressive.

In that stretch, he ranks first in rebounds and third in scoring among NBA rookies.

On Tuesday, Dieng kept his strong run going. Up against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs, Dieng held his ground in a physical interior battle, despite a few minor breakdowns and a poor shooting night (4-of-15). By the end of the evening, he had his sixth career double-double (12 points, 15 rebounds), and the shorthanded Wolves had rolled to an impressive 110-91 victory.

"The more experience he gets, the better he's going to be and I think he has some strength that some of the other big guys don't," coach Rick Adelman said. "We want him to be more aggressive in the pick and roll coverage because he moves his feet pretty good. Duncan backed him in a couple times but you know it's going to happen. You have just keep learning to keep getting better."

Dieng is never short on self-confidence, which has especially shown through since he first replaced injured starter Nikola Pekovic in the starting lineup in mid-March. Armed also with distinct sense of determination, Dieng's development at the NBA level has steadily accelerated with the increased minutes he's been given.

Usually one to be low-key with his answers, Dieng admitted matching up against Duncan was a major highlight in what has been a whirlwind stretch for him.

"Everybody knows Tim Duncan," Dieng said. "He's going to be a Hall of Famer ... It's a dream to play against those guys. When I got my chance, I just don't want to let it go, because I don't know when I'll get a chance again to play against him."

Dieng's sample size is too small to be put in the NBA Rookie of the Year conversation, but it could be argued the young Wolves center's recent emergence validates him at least for consideration for a spot on the league's All-Rookie team.

In his 10 starts, Dieng has averaged 12.3 points and 12 rebounds. He currently stands ninth among rookies this season in rebounds, racking up 114 of his 225 rebounds in the last three weeks. He has done so with just over half the number of minutes this year (624 in 55 games) as the eight rookies ahead of him on that list.

"He's a tough guy," guard Ricky Rubio said. "He's been waiting all season for his opportunity and now he has it. He's fighting against the best in the league and he's doing a great job."

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
In this story: Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio
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