There are a lot of names being passed around for the Portland Trail Blazers with their tenth pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. Kentavious Caldwell is a popular pick. Cody Zeller has gotten a lot of hype as his draft stock continues to climb. Kelly Olynyk is a sleeper pick by many draft experts.
One name that is not getting as much attention at the tenth spot is Louisville's Gorgui Dieng. That is a grave injustice. No one in the draft will impact the Blazers more than Dieng.
Here is what we know about Dieng so far. He's a 6'11 junior center, with an absurd 7'4 wingspan. He is a little old for a junior at 23. He was a First-Team Big East selection and anchored the top defense in the nation last season. He averaged 3.2 blocks per 40 minutes, to go along with 9.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. He injured his wrist early last season and has found his combine shortened by an ankle injury. Coach Rick Pitino raves about his defensive awareness and his unusual agility and defensive recovery ability for his size. His offensive skills need some work.
What Dieng brings to Portland is a defensive ability the league rarely gets a chance to see. Dwight Howard in his Orlando years. Ben Wallace in his Detroit years. Perhaps the player Dieng is compared most to is former Denver Nuggets star center Dikembe Mutombo. A powerful inside shot blocker and rebound artist, Mutombo never dominated the scoreboard, but controlled the game by forcing defenses away from whatever section of the court he patrolled.
The Blazers do not need another high impact scoring center like Zeller or Olynyk. LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, and Nic Batum provide scoring from all ranges. What the Blazers need is a defensive presence, someone to allow the Blazers to roam and be aggressive on defense. Dieng can be that high level defensive threat. Besides his athleticism around the rim, Dieng is a surprisingly effective passer both out of the block and down the court, and can setup the Blazers for easy fast break opportunities.
Dieng is not Meyers Leonard. He is capable of starting immediately and generating an impact on the floor. While he may never average twelve points a game, the value Portland would get on their end of the court would more than make up for that. Dieng is not Greg Oden, his injury concerns seem to be minor. His recovery from his wrist injury last season was swift, and Dieng showed no lingering effects during Louisville's Big East Tournament and NCAA Tournament runs.
This is not a star power pick. Dieng will not star in the All-Star Game or be league MVP. What he will bring to Portland is a potential multiple time Defensive Player of the Year. With his strength down low, the Blazers will have a lineup that matches with anyone in the league. All that just for the tenth overall pick.