Portland Trail Blazers: 3 solid free agents to add with veteran’s minimum

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Gorgui Dieng, Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies

Gorgui Dieng, Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Gorgui Dieng would add toughness to the Trail Blazers bench

No backup was more questioned and criticized for the Blazers in their first-round loss against the Denver Nuggets than reserve big man Enes Kanter. Each time Jusuf Nurkic found himself in foul trouble and Kanter had the burden of trying to stop Nikola Jokic, fans could only watch hopelessly on as Jokic barbecued him in every fashion.

While Kanter is a fine backup center for the regular season, with his knack for rebounding and low-post scoring, he’s made it abundantly clear that he can’t be trusted to defend in the playoffs. Whether it’s Jokic, Rudy Gobert, or Anthony Davis, the Blazers are sure to match up with another generational big that will make them regret not finding a replacement for Kanter.

There won’t be a ton of available centers this summer in the Blazers pay range, but there is a strong candidate to anchor Portland’s bench defense: Gorgui Dieng.

Dieng has curated an eight-year NBA career by being a solid backup that any team could use off the pine. While he’s undersized, he’s a smart, disciplined defender who’s almost always in the right place at the right time. While he certainly won’t be stopping any of the West’s elite big men, he can absolutely slow them down more than Kanter.

In this play, Dieng quickly picks up ball-handler Christian Wood on a semi-fast break. Gorgui slides his feet well to stay in front of the nimble Wood and uses his positioning to erase the size mismatch. Then, he patiently waits to contest the shot without fouling and ends up with one of his three blocks in this February matchup. He also finished a +20 in his 23 minutes on the floor that game.

As an added bonus, Dieng has also extended his range, making him capable of playing center and power forward. In the last two seasons, Dieng has hit 38 percent of his deep balls on over 220 attempts.

The best part is, Dieng came off the bench for the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies last season on a mere $1 million contract. With his experience, the Blazers could sign him for $2.3 million or more next season.

After finding a new coach, the Blazers next priority should be shoring up the bench defense and Gorgui Dieng would be a great place to start.

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