The Atlanta Hawks’ roster is nearly complete with 14 players currently under contract (not including Sharife Cooper and Skylar Mays, who are on Two-Way deals). For the first time in a long time, the Hawks have quality depth across the entire roster.
The center position is one that has improved depth from last season, and has some versatility as well since some of the forwards can slide to the five spot as well.
Though the position may look strong on paper, it won’t be as strong on the floor to start the season. Onyeka Okongwu will likely be sidelined until January or February after having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Okongwu was just hitting his stride during the Hawks playoff run, and it would have been great to see him build on that success heading into this season. Fans will instead have to wait for his return, but in the meantime, the Hawks went out and signed his temporary replacement, Gorgui Dieng.
Dieng only played 38 games last season (22 with Grizzlies, 16 with Spurs) and averaged 6.8 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. Dieng has been a serviceable backup center throughout his career, and offers some versatility at the center position on both sides of the ball. Here’s what you can expect from him this season.
When we talk about versatility at the center position, being able to stretch the floor is a big plus for a team that likes to space the floor. Look no further than the Hawks, whose offense thrives when everybody on the court can shoot from the perimeter. The last stretch-fives to play on the Hawks were Dewayne Dedmon and Alex Len, and they had the best seasons of their career in Atlanta. Clint Capela and Okongwu aren’t stepping out to the three-point line anytime soon, so Dieng will add a different, but familiar dynamic to the center position.
Dieng has increased his three-point attempts every year, and despite not being a great shooter from deep (31.8% with the Spurs), he still has the ability to make them. With guards like Trae Young, they’ll find you on the perimeter on a pick-and-pop play, or if you’re trailing.
Dieng’s threes last season came mostly off of catch-and-shoot plays while he was trailing, just like this one:
One thing the Hawks centers were good at last season was scoring on the pick-and-roll. In his short stint in San Antonio, Dieng had success at being the roller and scoring in different ways in the paint. In this clip, Dieng receives the pass from Patty Mills over the top, and he stays patient while two defenders crowd him:
Like I mentioned earlier, Dieng could be useful in the pick-and-pop because he has the ability to step out and hit jump shots. Looking back at a play from the Hawks last year, a simple screen gets Gallinari wide open on this three because of the attention Young attracts:
In this clip, Dieng sets the screen and pops out on the free throw line. He baits Cameron Payne on the pump fake, then steps into a mid-range shot. You’ll have to decide yourself if he called bank or not:
Dieng showed that he could add some sauce in his offensive game last season too, hitting the one-legged post fade a few times:
One of the advantages of having Dieng is that the Hawks won't have to play small as much if they want more spacing on the floor. Last season, John Collins and Danilo Gallinari would be inserted at the five, and though it helped on the offensive side, they either gave up size or length on defense. Dieng isn't the perimeter shooter that Collins and Gallinari are, but he is a natural center with good size that should be able to bang with the bigger centers in the league.
On defense, Dieng shows the skills of being a solid defender, and he may be able to keep up with smaller guards on the perimeter and block shots with his 7’4 wingspan:
With his height (6’11) and length, he's able to grab rebounds at a high rate as well. With Dieng not seeing many minutes these past few seasons, it’s hard to judge how effective he can be on the boards, but earlier in his career his was averaging around eight rebounds when given more minutes.
It will be interesting to see what the Hawks will decide to do with Dieng once Okongwu is close to coming back. They could look to trade Dieng before the trade deadline, or they could keep him for depth as the season continues and Okongwu gets in game shape.
With the history of success stretch-fives have with the Hawks, Dieng could be the next on the list to have a solid season in the right system.