Spurs

Dieng Adds New Dimension to Spurs’ Attack

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In typical San Antonio Spurs fashion, the front office silently beat out other flashier suitors to acquire Gorgui Dieng. On track towards a playoff return, GM Brian Wright addressed a glaring hole in the roster by signing the Senegalese veteran.

Wednesday’s affair against Sacramento saw Dieng make his Spurs debut. Unfortunately, it was cut short after a shoulder sprain, allowing him only six minutes of action. While his start was not what many hoped for, the 10-year veteran adds smarts and physicality the small-ball Spurs lack.

Following LaMarcus Aldridge‘s inevitable exit from San Antonio, the team’s frontcourt depth has taken a nosedive. Their options at the 5 were down to two: starter Jakob Poeltl and reserve Drew Eubanks. While Poeltl is an outstanding defender, he has his own limitations on offense, especially on free throws. Meanwhile, Eubanks is a jolt of energy off the bench but is undersized and lacks experience.

Stretch Five Prowess

Here is where Dieng becomes valuable. Spurs pundits would be quick to remember how the big man has seemed to always play well against the team. In prior stops with Minnesota and Memphis, he was able to consistently secure meaningful minutes by being a sound team defender and a heady offensive player. One of his notable strengths is the addition of a three-point shot in his arsenal.

With a 47.9% clip on triples, the veteran can inject more spacing on San Antonio’s drive-and-kick actions. This is how the team envisioned LMA would fit, but his penchant for mid-range shots clogs the floor for the slashers. With him, DeMar DeRozan, Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson and Derrick White will have more room to operate.

Dieng’s astronomical rate on treys would probably regress, but his three-point threat is enough to keep defenses honest. LMA never seemed comfortable spacing out as a stretch five. To compensate, Pop usually employs Rudy Gay for spot minutes at the 5, which is not ideal. Gay simply lacks the size and physicality to match up even with opposing backup bigs.

Solid Positional Defense

Defense is another overlooked dimension of Dieng’s game. While his presence does not bend game plans, he is very serviceable. He was a key piece of Memphis’ 7th-ranked defense in this campaign. His 6″10, 252-lb frame is an instant outpour of physicality which will boost San Antonio’s aggressive defense. The team’s tactic on D is predicated on hard presses and baseline funnels. Dieng gives Pop another option to serve as an anchor in spurts when Poeltl is on the bench.

While not a shot-blocking extraordinaire, the veteran is instinctive and heady on defense. Watch this play as he avoids biting on a pump fake and keeps up with his man, blocking him.

Dieng will be a great defensive utility man for the Spurs. In short bursts of 15 to 18 minutes per contest, his IQ and active feet will amplify the Spurs bench, which is already one of the league’s best.

Impressive Intangibles

Another strength of Dieng is his free-throw shooting. He is an 88.4% shooter on the charity stripe, which is a great addition for the team which relies on Poeltl for heavy minutes. The Austrian big man is tallying a pitiful 38.4% rate on freebies. Opposing teams have noticed this and frequently hack the defensive anchor in the line to phase him off the court.

In addition, his primary backup, Eubanks, is only passable at the line. His 70% slip seems average, but him as the fallback at the 5 when Poeltl is on the bench is not ideal. Having Dieng provides Gregg Popovich with a big man to trot out against teams trying to hack him, especially in the 4th quarter.

One more motif that Pop wants in his big men is passing instinct. In the past, he has resorted to Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter or Pau Gasol as an outlet to find cutters and shooters. Dieng’s ability to pass will stabilize an offense that seems indecisive at times, especially when the ball is in the paint. He does not tally lofty assist totals and is not as skilled as the mentioned big men, but the passing ability is there.

Observe how he keeps his feet and avoids a charge call by finding an open cutter:

Dieng enhances the Spurs’ playoff chances

The Spurs are currently 24-22, good for 8th in the West and well on track for at least the play-ins. For a team projected by most to miss the playoffs, the Silver and Black have trumped odds and seem poised for a postseason return.

With a brutal schedule looming to end the campaign, more help is welcome. Gorgui Dieng will diversify a Spurs attack that seems predictable at times. He will be a great option to employ against the West’s talented bigs. San Antonio is in a mini slump right now, but if everything gels and Dieng seamlessly fits into the team’s cohesive core, the only way is up.

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