Late in the second quarter of the Timberwolves' victory at Chicago on Monday, rookie center Gorgui Dieng was called for a foul and, a few seconds later, missed a shot. Quickly, Ronny Turiaf was up and was put back in the game by Rick Adelman.
As Dieng made his way off the court and toward the bench, Adelman stopped him. He put his arm around Dieng, gave him some instruction, then patted Dieng on the back on his way back to the bench. For Adelman, not known for his patience with rookies, it was an interesting moment, one that shows the veteran coach clearly likes the raw rookie.
And now that rookie has to grow up. With Nikola Pekovic out indefinitely, Turiaf and Dieng will have to do more. Turiaf, the veteran, will have to carry most of that load. But more will be needed from Dieng and, for him, this is new territory.
"It takes away a huge part of what we do," Adelman said of playing without Pekovic. "But you have no choice but to move on. You have to play Ronny there, and [Dieng] will back him up."
According to some of his teammates Monday, Dieng will not be intimidated by the moment. "It's funny," forward Kevin Love said. "He's extremely confident, even as a rookie. But he works hard, too."
When told of Love's comments, Turiaf laughed. "No question, no question," he said. So is there a story behind that laugh? "Yeah, but that I can't tell you," Turiaf said. "How about them apples? … I can tell you for a fact that my main man over here is waiting for this opportunity. He's put in the work, I can tell you that."
Adelman agreed, though he said he hoped Dieng would show less confidence in his outlet passes, a joking reference to Dieng's pass late in a victory over Utah on Jan. 18, when he put a pass off the backboard. "He works his tail off and competes," Adelman said. "That's all we try to tell him to do. Compete and stay within yourself. He can do some things. It's just experience right now."
There is no question Dieng is raw, especially on offense. But his ability to protect the rim on defense has had many clamoring for him to get more minutes. Love said it's clear the game has slowed down a bit for Dieng, one of the team's hardest workers in practice. Dieng himself said he has learned not to try to do too much, especially on offense. As for this opportunity?
"Every day I just block shots, play defense and, when I get the ball, I just put on my move," he said. "I'm just going to play my game. I'm not worried about having good or bad games."
Dieng only played six minutes against the Pelicans on Wednesday, going scoreless with four rebounds.
It appears Turiaf has become a mentor for Dieng. "We always talk about it," Turiaf said. "I ask him, 'What have you learned?' And his thing is, 'I'm learning the day in and day out of being an NBA player.' "
Confidence, part II
Turiaf isn't lacking for confidence, either. Asked about how he will handle a vastly increased role, he laughed.
"Whatever coach asks me to do, I'll do," he said. "… If I'm asked to be a scorer, I will score. If I'm asked to be a defender, I'll be a defender. If I'm asked to be the guy who is taking care of everybody behind the scenes, I do that. So it's fun."
•After consulting with his doctor, forward Chase Budinger has been cleared to play up to 24 minutes per night, up a bit from the 18 recommended when he first returned from knee surgery.