The Minnesota Wolves have undergone massive changes in the 2022 offseason, and it’s worth wondering how exactly that will all play out for Minnesota in 2022-23 as they look to build on a promising year. Every week from now until the start of pre-season in October, I’ll write about one specific thing for each potential rotation player that I’m most intrigued to see in terms of how the team ultimately fits together. . For last week’s article on Austin Rivers and Bryn Forbes, Click here.
We have reached the most crucial part of this offseason project. The interaction between Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns will determine whether the Minnesota Timberwolves live up to their lofty expectations or fall flat as many across the country expect, so that’s our focus for the next two weeks.
Wolves have never placed an elite vertical spacer next to attacking towns. The stats and highlights indicate that Gobert may be just that, but there are questions he needs to answer in that regard. Can he continue to score effectively when paired with another big man, and how will Minnesota deploy him on offense to ensure proper spacing?
What Gobert can do
Gobert is one of the NBA’s most effective high-volume field goal scorers. He took 6.7 restricted area field goal attempts per game last season, ninth in the league, and shot 76.9%. That’s the third-best accuracy among players in the top 10 in attempts, behind Jarrett Allen and Anthony Davis, according to NBA.com.
Gobert also led the league in dunks by a wide margin for the fourth consecutive season with 233, 54 more than second-placed Giannis Antetokounmpo. Essentially, Wolves’ task is to get him the ball safely to the basket. At this point, Gobert is hard to stop.
Gobert is also a handful as a roll man; his 1.32 points per possession tied for fifth among players with at least 150 possessions in that role. For comparison, the three players directly below him are Deandre Ayton (1.25 PPA), Joel Embiid (1.24) and Towns (1.2).
The most publicized example of this came in Game 4 of the Jazz’s first-round playoff series against the Mavericks, when Donovan Mitchell found Gobert for the winning alley-oop. Gobert sets up solid screens and knows when to slip into the basket to stretch the defense.
Utah ran the most PNR possessions of any team in the league in 2021-22, while Minnesota ran seventh-fewest. Expect Chris Finch to give the game a bigger role in offense, especially with D’Angelo Russell’s strengths as the PNR ball handler.
As you’d expect, Gobert is a punchy vertical spacer. He had 76 of 81 alley-oop dunks last season, which means he’s good at bailing a teammate to the basket once a night.
Even more important than the dunks themselves, however, is how Gobert’s presence warps the defense. His efficiency and fluidity on lobs puts extra pressure on his defender when he engages with other players around the basket. When players such as Towns and Anthony Edwards drive the paint, opposing big men will have to choose whether to stick with Gobert or turn completely and leave the lob option wide open.
What Gobert needs to prove he can do
The biggest question Gobert has to answer with Wolves – in the regular season anyway – is whether he will muddy the waters.
This is particularly relevant when it comes to cities, whose increased driving frequency and scoring efficiency has helped bounce back the season. Gobert has played with four on the majority of the time in recent seasons at Utah, so it will be an adjustment to team up with Towns, who scores in all areas of the court.
One factor that limits Gobert’s offensive flexibility is his lack of range. Sure, he doesn’t jump, but he hit 73.8% of his shots from 0-3 feet from the basket in 2021-22 according to Basketball-Reference. He shot just 20 of 58 on non-restricted area paint shots in the regular season per NBA.com; he has to be right at the basket to score, which makes it more difficult to consistently place him in advantageous positions.
Also, Wolves can’t afford Gobert to struggle to punish mismatches. His playoff failures are slightly overstated, but Gobert’s inability to consistently make opponents pay for changing guards has been a factor in the Jazz’s failures against the Clippers and Mavericks in the past two playoffs. Minnesota paid a high price for Gobert because they wanted to add intimidating size, so Gobert has to live up to that standard on both sides.
Finally, Gobert must prove that his hands are not a problem. He’s improved his catching and finishing fluidity since his first seasons in the league, but there’s likely to be less room to operate in Minnesota than he enjoyed in Utah. I can already see Towns wild fastballs ricocheting off Gobert’s mitts and out of bounds.
At this stage of his career, we know what Gobert is. If he secures the ball to the basket, it’s probably a bucket, but no one should expect him to add range or skill in his 30-year-old season. However, until we see him on the pitch with Towns and Co., there will be questions about whether his game is clogging the paint or opening it up.