For the near future – at least three games, perhaps more – the Wolves will have to learn how to play without center Nikola Pekovic roaming the paint, scoring points, attracting double teams and helping the Wolves outside shooters find space.
It starts tonight against New Orleans.
Ronny Turiaf came off the bench Monday and played very well, scoring 14 points with seven rebounds. But there is a big difference between spot play and doing it over the longer term. Turiaf and rookie Gorgui Dieng will be asked to do a lot more while Pekovic recovers.
“It’s definitely a different dynamic,” Kevin Love said after today’s shootaround. “We know what Pek has done for us this season. He’s been big for us, so we’re hoping he gets back on the floor as soon as possible. But Ronny was great for us last game. He gives us a lot of energy. And now Gorgui and (Dante Cunningham) are going to have to step up.’’
This will be a very interesting few games. The Wolves will have to find a way to replace the scoring Pekovic gave them. But observers have been waiting for a while to see what kind of impact Dieng can have, especially on the defensive end. Indeed, both Turiaf and Dieng are able to protect the rim in ways Pekovic cannot.
True, Dieng is still a raw talent. But coach Rick Adelman has said more than once that Dieng is one of the hardest-working players in practice. And he has clearly been willing to be patient while waiting for his chance.
This morning, when talking about Dieng, Love had some interesting things to say. “I think things are slowing down for him,” Love said. “It’s funny. He’s extremely confident, even as a rookie. But he works very hard, too. So I think that definitely helps his confidence as well. He knows how hard he works, and he knows what he’s capable of. Once things really slow down for him in the game, he adapts to the game? Kinda like Pek did, he’s going to be a lot better for us.’’
Turiaf, too, described Dieng as a confident player. Indeed, he said it with a big smile. When asked if there was a story behind that smile he said, “Yeah, but not that I can tell you. How about them apples?’’
But Turiaf did say this about Dieng: “I know for a fact that my man over here is waiting for that opportunity. He’s put in the work, I can tell you that.’’
For now, it figures Turiaf will start and that Dieng’s minutes will rise. At times, depending on the matchups, Adelman could also go with a smaller lineup with Love in the center position with Cunningham at power forward.
--Here is Turiaf talking about what should be an expanded role for him:
“I’ve got to be ready for it,” he said. “Flip (Saunders, the Wolves’ president of basketball operations) was making fun of me in the locker room a couple days ago. He was like, ‘Ronny, I guess now that you miss 30 games (at the start of the season), now your legs are fresh so you should be able to go for a couple more minutes.’ I was like, ‘Flip, you know what? That sounds like a pretty good idea, a pretty good thing.’ So I guess that I’m going to have to change my mindset a little bit and be ready earlier.’’
Meanwhile, Dieng talked with reporters at some length this morning. And while he didn’t exactly cut open a vein, he did come across as a fellow not intimidated by the moment.
He said he has learned to focus more in his game. “I used to get the ball and try to do everything,” he said. “(Now) I just want to get the ball, do one or two mores and if it went in, it went. If now, I’m just going to get back and play defense, because I know I can control those things. I like playing defense. Making the ball in the basket, I can’t control that. I’m a team player. I care more about the team winning than just me scoring points.”
That’s about it for now. I’ll get back to you after the game