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Trade Target Breakdown: Gorgui Dieng

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The Wolves’ big man could fit quite well on the Clippers.

Brooklyn Nets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

As we approach next month’s NBA Trade deadline, I’ll be doing a series of posts examining players who the Clippers could be pursuing in trade negotiations. I’ll cover a wide range of potential targets, including players the Clippers have been linked to in rumors, players who I think would make intriguing targets, and players who I have been asked about by readers. Haven’t seen a breakdown for a player you think the Clippers should pursue? Ask me to add him to the list!

Player Name: Gorgui Dieng

Position: PF/C

Height: 6’10”

Age: 30

Stats: Averaging 8.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.9 blocks in 18.3 minutes per game. Shooting 38.4% from three on 5.3 attempts per 36.

Contract: $16.2M this year and $17.3M next year.

Impact on Clippers: Moderate

Of the players that the Clippers could target at next month’s deadline, Dieng definitely isn’t among the most exciting names or talents. In his 7th year with the Timberwolves, he’s played both a starting and backup role, never quite breaking through as a bona fide starter and even disappointing at times, culminating in just 13.6 minutes per game last season and competition for rotation minutes early this year. But as the season has worn on, Dieng has proven his value to Minnesota (and potential trade suitors), and from the Clippers’ perspective, his allure would not be his individual talent, but rather his fit with the Clippers’ current pieces and needs.

Before Karl-Anthony Towns went down for Minnesota in mid-December, Dieng was a non-factor for the Wolves: in the 23 games Towns had played in to that point, Dieng had averaged under 12 minutes per game in 19 appearances and logged four DNP-CDs (Did Not Play - Coach’s Decision). With Towns hurt, however, the Wolves had no choice but to turn to Dieng in higher volume, and he had a resurgence, playing 26.4 minutes per game in 15 consecutive starts and averaging 12.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.3 steals, and 0.9 blocks while shooting an impressive 40.9% from deep on 4.4 attempts per game. Emerging as a high-efficiency pick-and-pop threat and an effective pick-and-roll defender, Dieng helped a badly struggling Wolves team (they were already on a 7-game losing streak when he entered the starting lineup) pick up some wins without their best player. For more on his play in the last month, I’d recommend this CanisHoopus piece.

Still, Dieng being really solid for a 15-game stretch leaves him well short of the kind of season a guy like Marcus Morris, another potential target, is having. So why would the Clippers pursue Dieng? Without doing so spectacularly, I think he quietly helps the Clippers address several of their weaknesses. As a pick-and-pop stretch big, he gives the Clippers an alternative floor-spacer at PF to JaMychal Green, who has been inconsistent this season, and Patrick Patterson, who hasn’t done much this year beyond shoot threes. At center (where Dieng has played the majority of his career minutes and most of his time this year filling in for Towns), he gives the Clippers a legitimate third option to Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell—a center who Doc Rivers can trust to space the floor and defend late in games.

While Dieng and Zubac are a clunky pairing, I think that Harrell could succeed in second-unit lineups where Dieng can help cover for him defensively without clogging the paint offensively, alleviating some concerns about Trez’s viability in certain playoff match-ups. At times, though, the extra-large combination might struggle defensively, as Dieng can be a bit slow (though he uses his length to contain pick-and-rolls well in drop coverage). Pairing Dieng and Harrell wouldn’t work in some playoff situations, but it should be fine to fill regular season minutes and having both of them and Zubac as options in the playoffs would allow Doc to mix-and-match depending on the series.

Likeliness of Availability: Moderate

Dieng’s $16.2M salary puts him right in the range of guys like Marcus Morris and Andre Iguodala, meaning the oft-suggested Clippers package of Maurice Harkless and Jerome Robinson works from a salary perspective. In terms of making a deal agreeable from Minnesota’s perspective, it’s murky how available Dieng is, and what the asking price would be for him.

His run of solid play while Towns was out suggests that the Wolves might be interested in holding on to Gorgui as a key bench piece as they attempt to rally with their star center healthy. But we aren’t far removed from Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders benching Dieng in the early games of the season, so it isn’t far-fetched to imagine that the team would be more than happy to use Dieng’s recent showcase to move his expensive contract off of their books. The Wolves also have younger options, like rookie center Naz Reid and after the departure of Jeff Teague, Dieng is the Wolves’ oldest player at 30.

Here is where Dieng’s bloated contract could cut both ways: the Wolves are building around a pair of 24-year-olds (Towns and, to a lesser extent, Andrew Wiggins) and would probably prefer to not pay 17M to a 31-year-old backup center next season. If the Wolves also deal coveted forward Robert Covington at the deadline without taking back long-term salary, they could be looking at a decent chunk of cap space next summer to pursue a free agent—though the 2020 class is weak. The flip side to that is that if the Wolves don’t think they’ll be a cap space team (or if they choose to not try to be because of the weak free agent pool), they might be extra motivated to hang on to Dieng because of his contract. Once this deadline passes, Dieng becomes a 17.3M expiring deal that the Wolves can use to put together a trade for a bigger piece, much like the Clippers could do with Harkless’ current 11.1M expiring. If they flip Dieng for Harkless, stay over the cap, and then let Harkless walk, they essentially lost a trade chip for nothing.

That’s only if they let Harkless walk, though. We shouldn’t forget that Moe is a very solid player in his own right, and has started on playoff teams each of the last four years. He would give the Wolves another intriguing combo forward with defensive chops the athleticism to play their preferred up-tempo style, and could end up filling a void in the starting lineup if Covington is flipped. Even long-term, the 26-year-old Harkless makes sense as a complementary piece between Wiggins and Towns from a positional and age perspective.