Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
There may be too much talent in front of Bates-Diop.
A second-year pro who was taken in the second round of the 2018 NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Keita Bates-Diop has only been with the Denver Nuggets for a brief time. As he’s only played seven games with his current club, his most notable contribution to the team thus far has been his role in Denver securing a first-round pick from the Houston Rockets.
Bates-Diop does have potential to make a recognizable impact for the Nuggets, but it’s unclear if he’ll get the opportunity. With a non-guaranteed salary for the 2020-21 season, the former Ohio State Buckeye may find himself cut or used in a trade package as Denver looks to improve their roster.
Regular season and playoff stats
2019-20 regular season: 6.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.5 blocks, 0.4 turnovers, 1.0 personal foul in 16.9 minutes per game (44 games) — .427/.330/.720 splits
(w/ Nuggets): 5.3 points, 2.4 rebounds, 0.3 steals, 0.6 blocks, 0.4 turnovers, 1.0 personal foul in 14.0 minutes per game (7 games) —.464/.333/.800 splits
2019-20 postseason: 0.6 points, 1.2 rebounds, 0.2 assists in 4.8 minutes per game (5 games) — .200/—/.500 splits
2019-20 season overview
The majority of Bates-Diop’s season was spent with the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he played 37 of his 44 regular season games. In 34 of those games, he would play 10+ minutes and in 11 he played 20+ minutes for the T’Wolves.
With Minnesota, he’s shown the ability to finish around the rim, knock down spot-up threes, hit the defensive boards and be a strong weakside defender. He’s better at finishing around contact than through it and he’s not a defensive stopper yet but it’s hard not to like a lot of what he brings to the table.
Considering that the Timberwolves ended up with guard Malik Beasley — who averaged 20.7 points per game for Minnesota — in the intricate four-team trade that Bates-Diop was a part of, there may be some regret that the team traded him away.
Nonetheless, while playing a minimal role for the Nuggets since the midseason trade, Bates-Diop did play 20+ minutes in three of Denver’s seeding games. Bates-Diop would average 8.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 0.3 steals and 0.7 blocks per game in those contests, shooting a dreadful 36.4% from the field and 33.3% from 3-point range.
Even with the Nuggets dealing with multiple injuries, their depth at forward prevented Bates-Diop from having the consistent minutes that he was finding with the Timberwolves. There simply wasn’t an argument for playing him over Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap, Michael Porter Jr. or Torrey Craig but there’s no denying that he has the potential to get the job done when his number is called.
Season grade: C+
Frankly, this is a tough one to grade.
While Bates-Diop didn’t do anything meaningful for Denver, he had respectable performances with Minnesota. Ultimately, he’s shown himself to be an instinctual and physically gifted player that can find a niche as a versatile frontcourt defender and three-point threat. He has many ways that he can improve but he’s not the type of player that coaches should shy away from as a situational contributor.
Highlight of the Year
Bates-Diop’s best highlight of the season came at the beginning of it, with the 24-year-old scoring a career-high 22 points in what was a two-point loss for the T’Wolves as they faced the Phoenix Suns. Shooting 9-18 from the field, this will be a game he likely also remembers as the one where he was the team’s second-leading scorer, edging out Andrew Wiggins.
He was aggressive attacking the paint, and nearly half of his points came from three-point range. Seeing him cutting and getting himself open is encouraging, considering how well Nikola Jokic finds teammates.
What’s next for Bates-Diop?
Bates-Diop finds himself in a position where his best chance to reclaim regular minutes depends on what he does as much as what the team does. With Paul Millsap, Torrey Craig (restricted) and likely Jerami Grant becoming free agents this offseason, there could be a chance for him to earn minutes in the frontcourt if the Nuggets fail to re-sign at least one of them.
That could allow him to play a bit role for Denver, where his play within those minutes becomes a factor in how Nuggets head coach Michael Malone chooses to set his future rotation. Without those events happening though, Bates-Diop may simply have to have the ‘next man up’ mentality, remain a positive locker room presence, and stay ready for when his number is called.
If he lasts on Denver’s roster past the 2020-21 season, he’ll become a restricted free agent in the offseason unless the Nuggets extend a qualifying offer.