Bakary Konate is an international man of mystery. On Tuesday, we finally found out how to pronounce his last name (like a coconut, without the first “co”) but we still don’t know what position he will play, how much he will play, and just how good he can be. We do know that he has been and will continue to be compared to Gorgui Dieng of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Both are from west Africa, play center, were three-star recruits, played at a prep-school before heading off to college, and both have been coached by Richard Pitino. We also know that Konate is a bit buried on the depth chart behind two experienced centers, and that three-star recruits don’t often usurp the starting spot of experienced players. So is Konate better at this stage in his career than an NBA player was, or is he a moderately-touted recruit who will struggle to find playing time? The answer is probably both.
Right now Gorgui Dieng is a rising NBA star, who was an absolute steal when he was acquired as something of an afterthought in the trade that brought Shabazz Muhammad to the Timberwolves. Three years earlier though, he was in much the same position that Bakary Konate is in now. Dieng averaged just less than 16 minutes, 6 points, and 4.4 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game as a freshman. Elliott Eliason had similar statistics in a few more minutes per game last season. While those numbers were promising, they didn’t suggest Dieng would be a first round draft pick. He was a very efficient player in very small spurts. He was second on the team in offensive efficiency, third in field goal percentage, the second or third best rebounder, and the best on a per possession basis. However, per possession statistics can be somewhat inflated by a limited playing time. When his minutes more than doubled in his sophomore season, and he was still a high percentage, shooter, and an efficient shot-blocker and rebounder, it became clear that his career path wasn’t following that of a typical three-star recruit.
Bakary Konate might be better than Gorgui Dieng was as a freshman, but that doesn’t mean we should expect a double-digit scorer or a dominating rebounder, or to even take significant minutes from Mo Walker and Elliott Eliason. To be as good or better than Dieng was as a freshman, he would only need a blocked shot or two and a couple of put back dunks per game. If he was able to do that, he could help give Walker and Eliason a few extra minutes on the bench, and a better chance to stay out of foul trouble.
Being a solid back-up should be Konate’s goal this season, and that would be enough to meet reasonable expectations, regardless of comparisons to current NBA players. If he can find his way on to the court, and be reasonably efficient, he’ll be well-positioned to start at center for the Golden Gophers next season. Then any comparisons to Gorgui Dieng will be much more meaningful.