Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  By PHIL ERVIN  |  Last updated 12/19/13
MINNEAPOLIS -- Gorgui Dieng was the last Timberwolvesplayer to exit the team's pregame shootaround Wednesday.Before leaving the Target Center floor, the rookie centerengaged in a lengthy discussion surrounded by general manager Milt Newton andassistant coaches Terry Porter, T.R. Dunn, David Adelman and Jack Sikma. Theiremphasis during the type of conversation that's become commonplace in Dieng'syoung, as-yet undefined career: be hungry, but stay patient."That's one thing they all say the same -- just bepatient, and your time will come," Dieng said. "(Starting centerNikola Pekovic) always telling me he didn't play his first year, his secondyear he barely played. I'm just gonna be patient. I've got a lot of good bigsin front of me."Wait, watch and learn quickly became the mantra for the No.21 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. Even after second-string big man Ronny Turiafwent down with an elbow fracture in the second game of the season, opening thedoor for Dieng to receive more minutes than previously expected, patiencebecame even more imperative.Some nights, Dieng hears coach Rick Adelman call his nameearly -- generally in the second quarter along with a wave of second-unitsubstitutions.Others, he doesn't leave the bench."He's done alright," said Adelman, whose teamimproved to 13-13 with a win Wednesday against Portland. "He's young, anda lot of times, he doesnt get a chance to play that much. We're gonna bringhim along. It's just really hard when you're trying to scrape out wins here andthere to play a young guy."So far, Dieng has appeared in 14 games, averaging 6.4minutes, 1.6 points and 2.2 rebounds. His only real contributions, though, havecome in the category he was most known for coming out of Louisville.Despite his limited playing time, the long, 6-foot-11 bigman averages nearly one blocked shot per game. That's a good sign for a teamwhose primary post men -- Pekovic, Kevin Love and, in certain situations, DanteCunningham and Luc Mbah a Moute -- aren't very effective at protecting the rim."I always tell (my teammates), 'When you got beat,dont foul,'" said Dieng, a native of Senegal. "'Just stay straight.I will come and clean it up.' Even if I don't block it, I'm gonna make sure Ialternate a shot or make it difficult or he gonna see me."But that mentality also brings a tendency to foul,particularly for a rookie who's still adjusting to the speed of the NBA andisn't going to get much benefit of doubt from officials. Although he has yet toplay more than 15 minutes in any contest, Dieng has been whistled on two ormore occasions in six separate games.He's told not to worry about it; he isn't likely to stay onthe floor long enough to commit all six he's allowed.Besides president of basketball operations Flip Saunders,Newton and Minnesota's coaching staff, Pekovic's voice is an influential one inreinforcing such guidance. Pekovic went through similar adjustments his rookieyear, when he played just 13.6 minutes per game and averaged 5.5 points andthree rebounds.Dieng may never be the dominant post scorer his Montenegrinmentor can be, but there's a place for him if he continues to steadilyprogress, Pekovic said."I just kind of see me, because he's going througheverything that I was doing my first year," Pekovic said. "You canalways improve yourself, and when he get chance, when he gets some playingtime, he just needs to be more calm in the game. That's what I told him atfirst: 'Don't try to do everything. You can't do everything.'"An accurate but not high-volume shooter in college, Diengstill has plenty of room for growth offensively. Continued real-life reps will help."I have to find ways to get him in the game," saidAdelman, who added that Dieng is "by far" the team's best rimdefender. "He alters shots in there. Offensively, you've got to scorepoints at the other end."One other aid for Dieng is his ongoing one-on-one rivalrywith reserve veteran A.J. Price. Frequently before or after workouts, the twowill square off head-to-head and can usually be heard bantering back and forthabout it afterward.It not only tests Dieng's foot skills and simulates gamesituations where a smaller guard attacks the basket but also unites him with adues-paying journeyman who has found ways to barely crack 15-man rosters almostevery year of his five-year career.During their battles, that feistiness can sometimes negateDieng's nine-inch height advantage."I know he's so competitive," Dieng said of Price."He gonna help me sharpen my skills defensively to make sure I take out aguard and slide my feet."Just 26 games into his professional career, Dieng willremain a work in progress. But the flashes he has already shown exhibitpromise. According to point guard J.J. Barea, the second unit's de factoleader, Dieng just needs more and more game experience.The more it adds up, watch out, Barea said."I like him," Barea said. "I think he's ourbest defender at the rim. Over the year, I think he's gonna play a little bitmore and get better. But I think we need him if we want to be good." Follow Phil Ervin on Twitter
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