Shabazz Muhammad has benefited from Minnesota's veteran reserve wings struggles. Alexey Shved & Chase Budinger have been massive disappointments this season, neither of them having any kind of memorable performance this season (at least none that come to my mind).
The NBA is an opportunity league and when players aren't performing or the 'main guys' go down with injuries, the players at the end of the bench need to step up and deliver. Shabazz Muhammad, Robbie Hummel & Gorgui Dieng have all had games that get you excited about their futures.
The most recent came from Gorgui Dieng on Sunday night vs. the Sacramento Kings. With no Nikola Pekovic (ankle) and no Ronny Turiaf (knee), Dieng was the only true center on the roster. As such, he started his first NBA game alongside All-Star Kevin Love. The pairing was a welcome change and provided a new dynamic that proved to be very effective.
Gorgui is incredibly athletic and very long. His rim protection was on full display Sunday night when he blocked 5 shots, altered another half dozen and also added 2 steals. He also finished with 12 points & 11 rebounds for the first (of many?) NBA double-doubles. All of this in a career-high 37 minutes and only committing 2 fouls.
Granted Dieng was going up against the likes of Aaron Gray & Jason Thompson, but an impressive stat line nonetheless. It's important to keep his one-night production in perspective and to manage expectations going forward.
The true test will come later this week. With Nikola Pekovic expected to miss (at least) the next two games, Gorgui figures to start at center in Minnesota's Wednesday & Thursday night games. The Wolves face the Mavericks (and Samuel Dalembert) and the Rockets (and Dwight Howard).
He'll face Dalembert who shares a very similar skill set and then face the #1 center in the League who can do everything Gorgui does, but he's a better in every area and he's a lot stronger too. The Wolves could be in trouble if Dieng gets in foul trouble Thursday night vs. DH.
It's no secret that the Wolves have no interior presence defensively by starting Kevin Love & Nikola Pekovic. If the Wolves were to combine Love with a player like Dieng, the Wolves would have a much more dynamic defensive presence. It would also take away some of Love's defensive deficiencies, who, to his credit has improved and has shown some flashes of being better on that end (Minnesota's matchups this season with the Grizzlies and Zach Randolph immediately come to mind).
I was someone who, one year ago thought that the Wolves had their own future version of "Tony Allen" and "Manu Ginobili" on the roster. I was envisioning Malcolm Lee becoming Minnesota's defensive specialist as the starting two-guard who could also chip in a couple buckets a night. Early last year, I thought the Wolves had a budding version of Manu in Alexey Shved. I saw Lee being able to play 25 minutes a night and have Shved come off the bench in a combo guard role for up to 30 minutes a night. It's because of ridiculous knee-jerk reactions to stellar individual performances that I found myself believing we had two young guards with a lot of potential that would develop into future stars.
So, I'm not going to draw a bunch of comparisons to players Gorgui reminds me of (ie: Larry Sanders) instead I'm just going to enjoy a good performance when any of the rookies provides one.
If Gorgui continues to start and continues to average a double-double with 2-3 blocks a night in 35 minutes then, we might have to revisit this and get a little more excited about his future with the Wolves.