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2020-2021 Memphis Grizzlies Player Preview: Gorgui Dieng

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Will the big man from Senegal stick with Memphis past the trade deadline?

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2020-21 Memphis Grizzlies Content Day Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

If you aren’t privy to the Memphis Grizzlies cap sheet, you might be surprised to learn that Gorgui Dieng will make the most money on the Grizzlies roster this upcoming season. Dieng will make $17.2 million in the last year of a contract he signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves back in 2017. With Jonas Valanciunas firmly cemented as the teams starting center, the Grizzlies aren’t paying Dieng that money based on his production. Instead, Dieng will be an interesting player this season for the Grizzlies even if he doesn’t play a ton once Jaren Jackson Jr. returns from injury.

So what exactly should you expect from Dieng this season? With a roster that has added multiple big men over the offseason, the answer is would seemingly be not to expect much from Dieng. Still, Dieng could ultimately have a bigger effect on the Grizzlies now and in the future with what happens this season.

2019-2020 Overview

Gorgui Dieng was acquired at last season’s trade deadline in the Justise Winslow trade to shore up minutes as the backup 5 for the Grizzlies. Dieng appeared in 17 games for the Grizzlies where he averaged 7.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1 block per game. Dieng played fairly well for the Grizzlies up until the season was suspended in March. The bubble wasn’t as kind to Dieng as he was out of Jenkins’ rotation until Jaren Jackson Jr.’s knee injury opened up backup 5 minutes for Dieng. Dieng appeared in just 5 games in Orlando and put up a couple of decent games but wasn’t a major factor in the Grizzlies success or failures in the bubble.

In his 17 games, Dieng saw his 3-point percentage plummet to 25%. It was a little discouraging considering Dieng is a career 35% 3-point shooter and hadn’t shot below 30% from deep since his 2nd season where he attempted just 6 3-pointers. On the plus side, Dieng was a defensive force off the bench for the Grizzlies, helping protect the paint for the second unit. If he didn’t block the shot, his size and length certainly altered opposing players shots and made them think twice before attacking the rim. Dieng also shot a career high 61.8% on 2-point attempts. Admittedly most of those shot attempts were at the rim, but it was still a positive sign that Gorgui finished when he was put in a position to score.

Projected Role

Even with the additions of Xavier Tillman and Killian Tillie, Dieng will likely be the backup 5 to start the year with the Grizzlies. Neither Tillman or Tillie have the bodies ready to battle in the post for an extended period of time, Jontay Porter likely isn’t ready after having not played a game in years, and with Jaren Jackson Jr. out for the start of the season Dieng will likely have 20-ish minutes per game of action each night backing up Jonas Valanciunas.

What’s his role look like once Jaren Jackson Jr. returns from injury? That’s where it gets tricky. The Grizzlies will likely go with their bubble rotation where Jaren starts at the 4 but is also the backup 5. With Jaren getting some of his minutes at the 5, it will open up minutes at the 4 for Tillman, Tillie and even guys like Justise Winslow and Kyle Anderson. The Grizzlies will likely prioritize minutes for their young big men over the 30-year old in Dieng. I wouldn’t be shocked if Dieng only gets spot minutes against teams with big lineups (Nuggets, Lakers, etc) or if others get injured/sick.

Season Best Case Scenario

Boston Celtics v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The best case scenario with Gorgui Dieng doesn’t involve him scoring a career high in points, or hauling in a career high in rebounds. The real best case scenario is for Dieng to be himself, get back to his career averages from beyond the arc, and prove himself to be a great trade asset for the Grizzlies. With his expiring contract, a team may want to trade for Dieng as they make a Finals or playoff push. The Golden State Warriors may want a veteran like Dieng available off the bench as they look to make their return to the Promised Land. Dieng would also be nice salary matching should the Grizzlies make a trade for a guy like Buddy Hield, or he could be used in a trade with a team looking to shred long-term salary and willing to give up picks for it.

Simply, the best case scenario for the Grizzlies with Dieng would be where they are able to flip him by the trade deadline for some valuable assets.

Season Worst Case Scenario

Memphis Grizzlies v Portland Trail Blazers - Game One Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The worst case scenario for the Grizzlies with Dieng would be if he were to get injured and lose his trade value. If Dieng were to pick up a moderate to major injury and force the Grizzlies to just eat his high salary would be a bit of a bummer for both Dieng and the Grizzlies. Not being able to get something in return for Dieng would likely be seen as a minor L for the organization.

Fortunately for the Grizzlies, even in a “worst case scenario” it’s not the end of the world because if Dieng were to miss time, it would open up minutes for the young Grizzlies big men in Tillman, Tillie and Jontay Porter.

Overall Expectations

Gorgui Dieng doesn’t really have that high of expectations with the Grizzlies this season. He’ll likely improve upon his 25% shooting from beyond the arc and he’ll be a solid rim protector for the second unit. He’ll be able to spot fill minutes when needed until JJJ is healthy and the young guys are ready. Even if he doesn’t “wow” anybody, the Grizzlies will likely have a handful of trade options for Dieng heading into the (rumored) trade deadline of March 25th.

Dieng likely will not be evaluated much by what he brings to the Grizzlies on the court, rather than what happens with him off the court and what he could bring the Grizzlies in a trade.

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