LAS VEGAS – It’s evident when watching the Timberwolves in summer league that Keita Bates-Diop is among the most confident players on the floor.
Bates-Diop is hunting his shot, playing with urgency but not out of control, and all that has translated to positive results in his second summer league.
Bates-Diop is trying to build off what he did last season, when he cracked the Wolves’ lineup late in the season and looked like an NBA rotation player when given the chance.
Entering Monday’s late game, Bates-Diop was averaging 14 points over 25 minutes per game, battling fellow second-year player Josh Okogie for the team lead in scoring.
“Last year I struggled with my change of pace, slowing down and not going 100% the whole time,” Bates-Diop said. “I’m trying to work on that, seeing the offense and slowing down, just making the right decision.”
Bates-Diop, the Wolves’ second-round pick from 2018 out of Ohio State, spent most of the season traveling back and forth between the G-League in Iowa and the Wolves. During his time in the G-League he flashed his scoring potential, averaging 17.7 points in 16 games with Iowa, and when Ryan Saunders took over for Tom Thibodeau — and a rash of injuries hit the Wolves — Bates-Diop got his chance in the regular rotation. He played significant minutes from late February until the end of the season.
After the season ended, Saunders said he sat down with Bates-Diop to talk about areas he could improve, with rebounding and pushing the ball down the floor at the top of his mind. Bates-Diop was averaging seven rebounds headed into Monday’s game.
“His pursuit of the basketball has been very good. … ” Saunders said. “That’s a credit to him for really absorbing that [advice].”
Added Bates-Diop: “It’s just having a nose for the ball, being aggressive. Being smart about it, but knowing I have inside position on somebody and just have to use basketball smarts.”
That can allow the Wolves to get in transition easier.
“He doesn’t need to give an outlet pass. He can push,” said Wolves assistant Pablo Prigioni, head coach of the summer league team. “His teammates just have to run and fill the spot. So with his ability to dribble the ball and get to the rim, the way we play open, he has the whole paint for him to drive. If not, we can get into the offense.”
The Wolves like Bates-Diop’s versatility given his 6-9 height. One thing they’re trying in the summer league is playing him at the center spot. The issue there would be his defense and rebounding — one of the reasons Saunders has hammered home that point to him — but offensively, Bates-Diop can bring a lot to the table from that position.
“It’s hard to guard a five being that dynamic,” Prigioni said. “He can pop, he can shoot, pump fake, get downhill. I don’t want to guard him.”
Those who have that responsibility in Las Vegas haven’t exactly been successful doing it.