LAS VEGAS – Timberwolves rookie center Gorgui Dieng received his unofficial introductory NBA moment Tuesday afternoon in Las Vegas Summer League action when he planted his feet under his team’s basket to draw a charge and was struck by an oncoming Miami player in such a way that every grown man inside Cox Pavilion cringed.
When he finally picked himself off the court, his face showed both pain and discouragement that he didn’t draw a charging foul but rather was whistled for blocking the player’s path instead.
“I was like, ‘That’s a dead charge,’ ” he said after the Wolves’ 80-71 victory over the Heat, their first in three Vegas games. “I was right there, setting my feet, and he ran at me. But sometimes there’s a bad call.”
And sometimes you get hit in a place and in such a way that there’s no response other than to just walk it off, which Dieng did by coming out of the game and walking all the way to the bathroom in another part of the UNLV athletic complex.
“He got hit, he just got hit,” Wolves summer-league coach David Adelman said. “Everybody who’s a man has been there. He needed a breather.”
Dieng returned to the bench and remained there until midway through the third quarter. That’s when he re-entered the game and delivered his most meaningful minutes in his team’s first three games.
By the time his Wolves team had built another big lead — but this time held on to win — Dieng had scored six points, grabbed five rebounds, blocked a shot, recorded an assist and stole the ball three times in 13½ minutes.
More importantly, Dieng said he finally felt like he’d found something.
“My first two games, I was kind of lost,” he said Tuesday. “There were too many plays for me and I was thinking too much. Yesterday, the coach said I just need to play. I think I start getting adjusted today. I think I’m still adjusting. I’m still learning the game because it is very different from college game.
“I just need to get used to it because it is different. That’s why the pros are pros.”
And he is a rookie, selected 21st overall out of NCAA champion Louisville in last month’s NBA draft because the Wolves need someone who can protect the rim.
They traded the ninth pick for Utah’s two first-round picks, moving down five spots to take UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad 14th overall and, in essence, moving up five spots from their 26th pick to take Dieng because of his 6-11 body, shot-blocking potential, high-post passing and a feel for the game rather unbefitting a guy who didn’t really play basketball in Senegal until he was 16 or 17.
“He made some great plays with his hands, tipped a few balls, he had three steals today, which is kind of what we thought he’d be,” Adelman said. “He had his best minutes so far. He met physicality with more physicality. It felt like before he was looking at us like, ‘Am I allowed to do this?’ We were like, yes, you’re allowed to do that. He’s just got to find that happy medium between what’s too much and what’s too little.
“It’s tough, we put in a lot of stuff so his mind is racing. He’s got to find a place where he goes, ‘Yeah, I know what I’m supposed to do, but I’ve also got to be me.’ ”
That true self as a player begins at that end of the floor that left Dieng in pain on Tuesday.
“I love playing defense,” he said. “Defensively, I’m fine. I can block shots and I can rebound. Offensively, I need to find my spot and know where I can get open. Right now, when I play, I just think too much. I’m trying to do the way Coach draws the play, but sometimes you just need to let it go and play.”
On Tuesday, that meant standing his ground defensively, even if blocking a shot is less painful every time.
“If it happens again, I’d do it again,” he said about that collision. “Doesn’t matter how I do it, I just need to protect the rim.”