At the very least, the San Antonio Spurs‘ latest acquisition won’t be able to torch them anymore. In the last two meetings between the Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies, Gorgui Dieng shot 12-of-17 overall and 5-of-6 from downtown to score 34 points while pulling down 16 boards. The result was a pair of blowout losses by the Spurs.
Now, Dieng is expected to sign with the Spurs after the team announced it has waived Marquese Chriss to create the necessary roster spot. The 6-10 center from Senegal is now in his eighth year in the league and was playing well for Memphis. However, he wasn’t likely to see much more of the court with Memphis’s already crowded frontcourt soon expected to grow with Jaren Jackson Jr’s return.
Picking up the 31-year-old was a smart move by a Spurs team that still has plenty of areas to improve as they look to secure a playoff seed in the Western Conference. Here are three things the veteran big man can bring to Gregg Popovich and the Spurs.
1. The San Antonio Spurs get a big man that can space the floor
The emergence of Jakob Poeltl defensively ultimately sealed the deal on taking Aldridge’s starting spot, which eventually led to his buyout and recent commitment to signing with the Brooklyn Nets. Still, Poeltl can often find himself in foul trouble, leaving the Spurs with Drew Eubanks getting extended minutes.
Eubanks has played well enough in his role, but he suffers from the same deficiency offensively as Poeltl. Both are excellent finishers but don’t have much to offer short of attempts in the paint.
Gorgui Dieng is a career 36 percent shooter from the 3-point line and was having a career year in Memphis in his 22 games played this season. Dieng knocked down 23 of 48 attempts for an astounding 48 percent mark with the Grizzlies. Unfortunately, 26 percent of those made threes were against the Spurs in their three-game series.
Now, he’ll be in the Silver and Black, hopefully continuing to hit open threes to help create space for the multitude of slashers the Spurs now have. As a bonus? He can hit free throws too. In his career, he shoots 80 percent and has upped that to 88 percent this season. Compared to Poeltl at 38 percent, he’s practically Patty Mills.
The Spurs suddenly should have more court space to work with as Dieng continues to fire away, and he won’t be a liability at the free throw line.
Next: No. 2
2. The San Antonio Spurs get a mobile big man with athleticism
The biggest dropoff in LaMarcus Aldridge’s game was undoubtedly his defensive mobility. At age 35, Aldridge lost quite a few steps on that end of the floor, leading to wide-open threes and easy blow-bys from opponents.
Dieng isn’t a lockdown defender, but he’s a significant upgrade on defense from Aldridge and has the ability to be a rim protector. Here, he shows excellent help inside on a driving Chris Chiozza before recovering to swat Jarrett Allen.
As a 3-point shooting big man himself, Dieng should have a better sense of which guys need to be guarded at the line, as more and more big men are starting to become knockdown outside shooters.
The Spurs need to be capable of switching at all positions on defense to cover shooters, and the center position has been lacking in that department. Dieng should be able to cover more ground at the arc than Poeltl or Eubanks and use his 6-10 frame to at least contest shots. He also blocked 1.9 shots per 36 minutes last season in his split time with Minnesota and Memphis.
Gorgui should also be a good mentor for Luka Samanic, who already has shown that he can defend both the perimeter and inside reasonably well but could benefit from tips coming from a veteran.
Next: No. 3
3. The San Antonio Spurs get intangibles from Gorgui Dieng
Luka Samanic has shown he can turn into the elusive versatile big the Spurs rarely seem to have, but he still isn’t big enough to mix it up with many of the league’s bigs inside. Dieng has 35 pounds on Samanic while also offering a similar skill set in that he can guard multiple positions.
Dieng is one of those guys that doesn’t post monster numbers but can make hustle plays that can be the difference between winning and losing a ballgame. He also has averaged one or fewer turnovers in each of the last four seasons, which should bode well when it comes to getting playing time under Gregg Popovich.
As Ethan Farina wrote about earlier, Dieng is likely to take minutes from Drew Eubanks at the backup center position, but Poeltl should still be getting the bulk of that position’s minutes. Dieng offers relatively mistake-free, efficient basketball and gives the Spurs another 30-plus year old to join the four vets on San Antonio now.
I don’t expect this signing to be a gamechanger, but this is a very underrated move by the Spurs’ front office and a good get, considering several other teams were in the running.