NBA

Introducing Rudy Gobert to his new Timberwolves team and a new city

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Rudy Gobert’s trade from the Utah Jazz to the Minnesota Timberwolves was the most hotly debated deal of the summer. Wolves paid a bounty — four players, four first-round picks and a pick trade — to get the league’s best rim protector and rebounder.

Some say the price was too high, that a player with Gobert’s limited offensive skills isn’t worth what the Timberwolves paid for him.

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Wolves believe Gobert is exactly what they need to take a team that made the playoffs as the No. 7 seed into the top tier of the Western Conference. They feel they can unleash more of Gobert’s potential in attack and will instantly have exceptional defense with him in the midst of it all.

Wolves fans have been absorbing analysis of the deal for over a month now. Gobert’s impact on a team’s success is hard to measure. Many of the same fans who criticized Gobert as someone out of the Karl-Anthony Towns league are now trying to figure out why Wolves were so aggressive in targeting him.

To fully understand what Wolves are getting, the impact Gobert has had in Utah and who he is with the player, we’re going to pick the mastermind of Athleticism Tony Jones, who has covered Gobert for the past eight seasons. We’ll go over the misconceptions, background, and real concerns to consider with this union.


Jon Krawczynski: Tony, my man, please help some of the nervous Wolves fans at the moment. You know Rudy as well as anyone. You saw what he did in Utah. First off, what kind of player are Wolves getting now that they have Rudy on board?

Tony Jones: Let’s first state the obvious. Rudy Gobert is the best defensive player on the planet. I know some like to point to Draymond Green, but Gobert protects the paint as well as any player the NBA has seen since Orlando Magic Dwight Howard. It is historically good in that sense. Now, let’s state what’s not so obvious, or some of the things that people have decided to choose to ignore about him over the past three to five seasons. He’s incredibly impactful offensively in a number of ways.

He’s the best screener in basketball, which means Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell are going to see space on the dribble that they simply haven’t seen in the past. He is an elite finisher at the rim when he catches the ball and has a chance to collect. He has as much vertical gravity rolling into the lane as any big player in the game, which means Minnesota shooters will have plenty of cornering room.

Utah’s defensive system was built around Gobert. But, quiet as it is, Utah’s offensive identity was also built around Gobert’s ability to screen and roll to the edge. The fact that Minnesota has the offensive talent around to take advantage of should make them one of the best teams in the league this season on this side of basketball.

Most important: Gobert is sustainable. Its engine never stops. He is in incredible shape. He runs the ground like a deer. The Timberwolves are on their way to getting one of the top 15 basketball players and one of the top three centers in the league. Gobert is just a terrific talent, and for someone who saw him receive so much unwarranted criticism, I hope he gets the flowers he deserves in the land of 10,000 lakes.

JK: I’m glad you brought that up. You know as well as anyone that Rudy’s status in the league has been debated over the years. The accusations that he got played off the floor in the playoffs, the fact that he’s not shooting in a league that now values ​​big players more than ever. Heck, the last time the Jazz were in Minnesota, Patrick Beverley and Edwards weren’t afraid to criticize it (although Pat Bev isn’t afraid to criticize anyone, it seems). So what’s right and what’s not when it comes to this?

T.J.: Gobert dominates in an unconventional way in this era of basketball. If you don’t shoot 3s, and if you’re not aesthetic, you’re going to be criticized. Gobert was an easy target in many ways, and I’m not going to sit here and pretend he doesn’t have his quirks. He is extremely demanding with his teammates. He is extremely honest with the media. That’s why he’s had run-ins with teammates in the past. But he was never played on the floor in a post-season situation. His biggest flaw is that you can’t attack switches with him offensively. But, where the Jazz had Donovan Mitchell who could attack switches in a playoff frame, the Timberwolves have Edwards, Towns and Russell who can all attack the rebound in a playoff frame. Much of the criticism Gobert has faced over the course of his career has been lazy and grossly off the mark. It’s ironic that few people criticize him for the one thing that’s really worthwhile.

JK: So it’s interesting, because all we heard in those games was how Gobert gets knocked off the floor in the playoffs. How he’s a good guy in the regular season, but not in the playoffs. Wolves have talked about being able to support him more defensively with Edwards and Jaden McDaniels than the Jazz could on the perimeter. Do you think that’s a realistic position for Wolves?

TJ: It’s a myth. The Jazz weren’t good enough around Gobert defensively. It remains to be seen if Wolves are, especially now that Towns will have to defend away from the basket. But Gobert hasn’t played defensively with anyone close to McDaniels’ talent. I think Edwards can also defend when he wants. I think in a playoff context, offensive point defense will be an issue for Minnesota. But the Timberwolves have a length and athleticism around Gobert that the Jazz just never got around.

JK: Well, that fixes the problem. I’m starting to plan the parade route right now. What will be the biggest hurdles that could hinder the success of adding Gobert?

TJ: There are several things. I’m afraid Gobert doesn’t have enough ball to be happy in Minnesota. Quietly, one of his biggest quirks is that he will demand the basketball and let it be known that he is not getting the basketball. This stuff wears out in a dressing room over time, and Wolves have plenty of guys on this list who need the ball in their hands. Second, Towns is going to have to prove he can defend, and that will be a big challenge for him. I have no doubts he can play power forward offensively, but whether he can do it defensively remains to be seen. Third, the Timberwolves aren’t sneaking up on anyone this season. They’re going to be pushed out, and how does this change affect the top players on the roster?

J.K.: Innnnnninteresting. I think some people may look at Gobert’s career averages and say, “See, he’s a perfect match for volume shooters like Edwards and Russell because he doesn’t need the ball.” But that doesn’t sound like the case. Towns is used to shooting well 15 times per game against 22, which can help. But Russell will really have to pass him and quarterback this offense to feed all mouths.

TJ: The best attack around Gobert is one that takes advantage of his projection and creates shots wide of the pass. I think Gobert will make Edwards and Russell better players. I wonder what impact his presence in the paint will have on Towns, who may not have his usual mid-post points to work with as he usually does. The fit between Gobert and KAT will be key. In a perfect world, they cover for each other for what they collectively don’t do well, and they complement each other for their collective strengths.

JK: Yeah, I think we’re going to see a lot more Towns 3 next season. He kind of moved away from that aspect of his game last season to welcome shooters from Russell, Edwards, Beasley and Wolves. But after Beasley was transferred to Utah, there aren’t as many dead-eye shooters to space the floor for Rudy. Towns really introduced the fake pump and drive as part of his game last season. Now he will have to let it fly a lot more. The other thing I was wondering is that Chris Finch likes to play fast. You said earlier that Rudy runs like a deer. Does an up-tempo style match his playing?

TJ: I think that would really help him. As I mentioned before, Gobert is in incredible shape. He’s a guy who would come back from a road trip and run mountains behind his house just to reacclimate to the altitude of Utah. He is someone who does not get tired in games. I’ve seen him win games against Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokić just by beating them for 48 minutes. So, he can for sure survive in a high possession environment.

JK: As we approach the conclusion here, what kind of guy is Gobert? When Wolves fans get to know him, what will they find? It’s a dressing room that was very united last season and used that chemistry to play better than the talent they had. But there are strong personalities in there. Cities have always been there. Edwards has a lot of confidence in him. Russell can run hot and cold. How do you think it all fits together this way?

TJ: Gobert’s best and worst qualities are his honesty. It’s direct and it’s brutal. He’s a guy who told the media this season that Donovan Mitchell should be more like Devin Booker. That being said, Gobert is extremely smart, and he’s certainly smart enough to know he’s coming into a locker room as a new kid on the block. So, expect him to reduce a lot of his leadership this season and expect him to make a real effort to fit in. As you said, between Towns and Edwards, there are already strong voices and personalities in the locker room. So I think Gobert’s mentality is going to be to come and play basketball.

JK: And I’ve heard that he’s a very aware of the discourse. So probably safe to say he hears the skeptics and critics who say Wolves overpaid, that there’s no way this pairing with Towns will work. And he’ll use that as a little extra motivation.

TJ: For sure. He hears and sees everything. He doesn’t talk about it as much as he used to, but he knows it’s there. Bottom line: The Timberwolves will be a very good team for at least the next two years. There is a risk towards the end of Gobert’s contract. But in the present, Gobert is a game-changer for Minnesota.

(Photo: David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

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