Charlie Johnson (@CjohnsNBA) contributed to this story.
The Minnesota Timberwolves preseason is here. Additional player profiles below.
After four turbulent seasons at Ohio State University – from the bench to the recovery room to the team’s primary option – Keita Bates-Diop was projected to be a late first-round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Following the rehab of his surgically repaired left leg, the redshirt junior averaged 19.8 points and 8.7 rebounds last season and eventually earned Big Ten Player of the Year honors.
But ultimately, relative old age and a concerning injury history preceded his surprising draft night tumble. In the end, Bates-Diop was selected by the Timberwolves with the 48th pick in the second round. The 6-foot-8.5 forward – who sports an impressive 7-foot-3.25 wingspan – was recently voted the steal of the draft by his fellow rookies.
Let’s dig into his player profile.
- Bates-Diop led the Big Ten with 1.0 Blocks per Personal Foul last season, narrowly edging out Jaren Jackson Jr.
- He also finished second in points per game and third by rebounds per game.
- Bates-Diop averaged more minutes per game during the Las Vegas Summer League (33.8) than any other player.
- Against the Summer League Raptors, he put up 24 points on 7 of 15 shooting (3 of 6 from deep) with 11 rebounds, two blocks and a steal.
Role on the Wolves
In assessing the role that a rookie projects to fill on their brand new team, it’s imperative to evaluate the position they play in relation to the roster they’re joining. So, what is Bates Diop?
Is he a small forward? Maybe if you review his college film when he was the Buckeyes’ premier perimeter threat. Is he a power forward? That’s where he seemed to play most of his minutes while at the Las Vegas Summer League, and it may be where his elite measurables and lacking athleticism lead him. Is he a center? Well, probably not. But if you watched the Wolves play in Las Vegas, you saw him spend time protecting the rim.
Bates-Diop weighs 224 pounds, is 6-foot-8, sports a 7-foot-3.25 wingspan and an 8-foot-10.5 standing reach. That uniquely impressive size helped him stand out last season in Columbus; en route to compiling nearly 20 points per game on impressive efficiency (.577 TS%), Bates-Diop was committed to his prolific mid-range game. He utilized his long arms to release shots against almost any collegiate defender.
Beyond the mid-range, Bates-Diop has developed his 3-point jump shot throughout his amateur career. During his final season at OSU, the Normal, Ill. native attempted a career-high 6.5 3-point attempts per 40 minutes of action, connecting on nearly 36 percent of those shots. Bates-Diop’s form is more manufactured than natural, but his release is quick enough and plenty confident.
On the defensive end, he sports impressive patience and intellect. His final season of college, Bates-Diop averaged just two fouls per-40 minutes on the court. In four games of summer league action, it became apparent why: he doesn’t depend on bursts of speed or strength to stop his opponent. Rarely will you see him get caught reaching or biting on a pump-fake to bail out the offense.
Instead, he stays grounded and utilizes his length to force the player he’s guarding into a difficult shot. Where Josh Okogie – the Wolves’ first-round pick – relies on flash, Bates-Diop relies on form.
On that side of the floor, Bates-Diop didn’t only impress protecting the paint during his experience in Las Vegas; his perimeter defense at least inspired a degree of hope simultaneously. Though he was beaten off the dribble more than you’d like to see, there were instances when his wingspan appeared too much to handle for opposing wings. Most notably, Raptors’ second-year small forward OG Anunoby was held to 13 points on 5 of 15 shooting in a Summer League game against the Wolves; for a majority of that contest, he was defended by Bates-Diop (who put up 24 points and 11 rebounds himself).
In his first year at the NBA level, questionable athleticism and roster construct are Bates-Diop’s most obvious hurdles to clear.
Against NBA defenses, it will be exceedingly difficult for him to utilize the mid-range repertoire he’s developed. Subsequently, if he’s unable to extend his range to the NBA 3-point line as a rookie, his primary offensive value will be a penchant for avoiding mistakes. On the other end of the floor — because of his peculiar length, frame, and agility — it remains to be seen what position Bates-Diop is capable of guarding at the NBA level.
Should he struggle to contain dynamic perimeter opponents, he’ll be relegated to join the Wolves’ deep group of front-court players – all but diminishing his chances for meaningful playing time.
With ambiguity surrounding Bates-Diop’s positional distinction — given his abnormal physical measurables — it is ironic that purely as a basketball player, how much sense he makes on the floor. KBD’s game is simple, logical and replicable.
Bates-Diop’s most NBA ready skill is on-ball defense from the mid-post and down to the block. Areas within fifteen feet of the hoop do not expose his slow feet and allow his length to be weaponized. The below action comes against Anunoby; a player who started 62 games for the one-seed in the East; was last seen being defended by LeBron James in the conference semi-finals, and matches Bates-Diop in height and wingspan.
It is in situations like this — with minimal space — that Bates-Diop can not only check better athletes but beat them. Without space, there is no separation and without separation, Bates-Diop can contest any shot. He’s not a traditional rim defender but he is a shot blocker. The majority of shots Bates-Diop deflects will not be at the rim, they will be at the release point of the shot.
Watch here as he uses his length to stay in the shooter’s pocket while maintaining a distance that prevents him from being burnt off-the-dribble. Bates-Diop is not fast or quick but he is reactive.
In ways, this is similar to Nemanja Bjelica who is also slow-footed but uses his standing reach to contest shots. However, the fear with Bates-Diop is that he, like Bjelica, will be able to be exploited in space. In the team scheme, Bjelica was fine defensively but when opponents made a conscious effort to attack him there was little he could do.
The very next possession:
When defending, Bjelica also often got lost in the speed of offenses that moved at a faster pace or made him run around screens. With slow feet to close out, Bjelica was always a blow by concern. This should also be a concern with Bates-Diop’s defense on the perimeter.
Early in Bates-Diop’s career, I would assume Tom Thibodeau utilizes him in defensive lineups where can function as a big. In the below pick-and-roll, Bates-Diop is the “dropping big man.” Here, he is tasked with backpedaling so as to make a wall the ball-handler cannot penetrate through. KBD’s 7-foot-3 wingspan is weaponized when drops through the ability to take away the pocket pass.
Offensively, if he cracks the rotation, I would assume Bates-Diop fills a very low usage role — a departure from his Ohio State days. Functionally, this would look like Bjelica spot-ups when he plays the four and similar to Brandon Rush if Bates-Diop gets run on the wing. He will be tasked with moving into space and decisively shooting if the opportunity presents itself.
While the positional ambiguity is confusing at the moment, Bates-Diop’s ability to situationally function in up to three positions could be a real asset for the Wolves.
To find additional Zone Coverage player profiles follow the links below. Additional profiles to be added throughout September.