This is the seventh in a 17-part series profiling each player on the Timberwolves' roster leading up to training camp.
Rookie center Gorgui Dieng's introductory NBA role is about as simple as the matter-of-fact manner in which he speaks with reporters.
Swat shots. Score a few points.
Seems simple enough for a guy who did plenty of both on the way to a national championship at Louisville last year. But the Big East is not the NBA, and Mitch McGary isn't Dwight Howard.
A camp against one of the Western Conference's tougher frontcourts to defend will be good for Dieng. So will some time to adjust to a new city after calling Kentucky home for the past three years.
If Dieng has his way, he won't be playing the part of protg for long.
2012-13 stats: 9.8 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 2 APG, 2.5 BPG
2013 salary: 1,352,640
Last year: Dieng, a native of Kebemer, Senegal, was everything Louisville coach Rick Pitino asked him to be last season: a feisty rebounder and shot blocker. Both roles helped him earn Big East Defensive Player of the Year accolades.
The 6-foot-11, 230-pound junior moved very well for a man of his stature, constantly sliding and timing leaps perfectly to smack shots away. The Cardinals needed him to, as Pitino placed his other four players close to the 3-point line and asked them to play outside matchup defense.
When opposing players slashed to the rim, there was Dieng, waiting like a lion in the savannah grass near his homeland.
Dieng was close to his best during Louisville's NCAA Tournament run, when he averaged 8.7 Points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game and shot 77.4 percent from the floor. His offense wasn't as reputable last year, as most of his points came via dirty work -- offensive put-backs, lobs inside, the occasional mid-range jumper.
But he earned the label, first and foremost as a rim protector.
The Timberwolves happened to be in the market for one of those.
This year: For all of his offensive talents and sheer size, Minnesota center Nikola Pekovic isn't one to make dazzling defensive play after dazzling defensive play.
That made the Timberwolves' offseason goals, as they pertain to the interior, rather clear-cut. President of basketball operations Flip Saunder's No. 1 priority was to re-sign the restricted free agent, and not far behind was the desire for a five who has the potential to defend somewhere near the level Pekovic converts buckets.
Dieng appears to be that guy.
Although he didn't visit Minneapolis for a pre-draft workout, Timberwolves brass decided he was the best defensive-minded center on the board after striking a deal with Utah that allowed them to take Shabazz Muhammad 14th overall and Dieng 21st. Dieng, Saunders reasoned, could spell Pekovic when needed and deny enough points to compensate for the ones Pekovic may have been producing at the other end.
Minnesota also signed big man Ronny Turiaf, a veteran free agent who also has been known to block a shot or two. Dieng will have a chance to work against both of them in training camp next month, and see how he fares when Kevin Love and other NBA scorers come into the paint and test him.
Dieng showed well defensively during the NBA's Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 1.2 rejections per game. His offense left something to be desired, as he notched 4.8 points per game -- though with his position this season relatively set, coaches played him an average of only 15.2 minutes.
His post-up game needs some work, as does his mid-range jumper. Dieng is actually a pretty effective passer, which could add a unique twist to coach Rick Adelman's offense when he's on the floor.
Dieng has come a long way since moving to America before his senior year of high school. Even during his earlier years at Louisville, there were basic tenets of the game he simply didn't understand, especially goaltending.
But he learned to use his 7-4 wingspan in to be a defensive antagonist. Having a first-round pick invested in him, the Timberwolves are hoping he can do the same in the NBA.
From the front office: "I think he's more ready to play than most of those guys because he's skilled in his passing ability. He has an NBA skill and that skill is that he can guard. Coach Pitino said he's one of the best players he had, and here s a guy who's only played ball for five or six years so he can improve, but the one thing he has is an NBA skill and he's aggressive, he knows how to defend pick and rolls, he knows how to defend inside." -- Saunders
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