Welcome to Pounding The Rock’s 2022-23 player reviews! The series will look at all 16 players that finished the season with the Spurs (minus Khem Birch since he never suited up), so we won’t be reviewing players like Stanley Johnson or Isaiah Roby. In the third edition, we will be moving past the two-way players and taking a look at Gorgui Dieng’s performance and his outlook for the future.
2022-23 Stats: 31 games, 3.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 38.5% FG, 28% 3P
2022-23 Salary: One-year minimum contract
Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent
The Spurs signing Gorgui Dieng in the offseason was one of those tiny moves that stand out. After clearly hinting at a full rebuild, bringing in a veteran center closer to retirement than his prime was an odd decision. Dieng had a short and uneventful stint in San Antonio in the 2020/21 season that should have convinced the front office that the big man was at best a fringe rotation player, and he did very little in Atlanta the following season to change that perception. So why sign Dieng?
The answer has little to do with what he could do on the court, which is what makes discussing his performance so hard. The rebounding and shot-blocking remained solid at a per-minute level, and Dieng acclimated well to facilitating from the high post, but in 2022/23 he barely got to the line and took almost twice as many threes as he did two-point shots, which was a problem since he had his worst year as an outside shooter since he started to let it fly from beyond the arc. A lot of those shots came with no one really close to him to contest them, and he still only connected on 34 percent of those. If the appeal of the veteran was his viability as a stretch big, then his performance was a disappointment.
Fortunately for Dieng, what was truly asked of him was to provide leadership to an extremely young locker room, and in that regard, he did his job. The big man was signed, waived, signed to two 10-day contracts and then signed for the rest of the season and always seemed happy to just be around the team. Teammates and coaches both made sure to point out how much of a positive presence he was, and he was always ready to step in and help on the court when called upon. His humanitarian work, which he started long before being in San Antonio, probably set a good example for a new generation of Spurs players. As unremarkable as he was on the court, Dieng was the perfect mentor off the court.
The Spurs might need roster spots for young players if they use all three draft picks they’ll have this year, which could mean parting ways with Dieng. As good as he’s been in the locker room, if the outside shot is gone, the big man simply doesn’t have much value. With Zach Collins entrenched in the starting spot, Sandro Mamukelashvili appearing as a potentially cheap option as a stretch big, and Dominick Barlow showing some promise as a small-ball center, the Spurs have younger, more intriguing pieces than Dieng to bring back even if they don’t add anyone else to man the paint. The most likely scenario involves Dieng leaving to fill a similar role to the one he filled this season in San Antonio for another team in need of veteran leadership.
That said, a return is not completely out of the question. Dieng’s passing and ability to play drop pick and roll defense — Gregg Popovich’s preferred scheme — semi-competently could make him a good last resource option in case of injuries, as he can sop up some minutes while filling a small role. If he does come back, however, it will be because the coaching staff values his contributions off the court more than they do an open roster spot. The extra two-way deal every team will be able to use could open up a possibility for the veteran big’s return as well, as the Spurs could use that slot to take a chance on a young guy or to sign one of their second rounders. It would be surprising to see Dieng back, but it doesn’t seem impossible.
March 31 vs. the Warriors: 14 points, 10 rebounds, four made three-pointers
Final grade: D
Up next: Sandro Mamukelashvili