Misfortune struck the Atlanta Hawks this offseason as center Onyeka Okongwu underwent surgery for his torn right shoulder labrum, which has an expected recovery time of six months. In need of a backup center, the Hawks signed free agent Gorgui Dieng to a one-year deal with the expectation that he will be an adequate replacement for Okongwu while he is out.
Dieng will provide the Hawks with a unique skillset, a skillset that translates well into the modern NBA. On the offensive end, Dieng excels as a screen-and-roller on ball screens as he does a good job using his athleticism to not only apply backside pressure onto opposing big men in drop coverage, but also roll to the basket before the weak-side help is able to affect the play.
Dieng can also space the floor as a stretch big. He shot a career-high 42.9% from deep last season, and he should make an impact in 5-out and pick-and-pop sets with the Hawks. Mechanically, his jump shot is a little unorthodox, but the results speak for themselves.
One advantage of running 5-out sets is when jump shots are falling, driving lanes open up. At this point in the game, Dieng has hit multiple 3-pointers, so his defender must step up and contest a possible shot. Because Dieng has the athletic advantage over Dwight Howard (that feels weird to say), he’s able to attack Howard’s front foot, get him to ride his right hip, and draw the foul.
On the defensive end, Dieng is an excellent rim protector. By combining his phenomenal help-side instincts and 7’4″ wingspan, he’s able to contest drives to the basket. He also does a good job of blocking shots inbound, which allows his team to retain possession of the ball.
Dieng is also athletic enough to make defensive plays out on the perimeter. He’s skilled at reading passing lanes and anticipating when to make a play on the ball.
While Dieng might not have been the flashiest pickup this offseason, he’ll fill an important need at backup center and provide some much-needed versatility to the Hawks’ frontcourt room.
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