Rudy Gobert will help the Minnesota Timberwolves significantly on the defensive interior. But people are overlooking his ability to help them on the offensive interior. A key component to the final score in Minnesota’s last handful of seasons has been their ability to finish around the rim successfully, even when it is wide-open.
Last year, the Wolves shot 64.7% from the restricted zone. Here is how their most frequent shot-takers faired in that area.
These percentages may look very solid, but as a team, the Wolves ranked middle of the pack at 17th.
Conversely, Gobert ranked 9th in the league in attempts in the restricted area, sixth in makes, and finished with the best at 76.9%. On last year’s Wolves team, he would have ranked first in makes per game (5.2), first on the team in attempts per game (6.7), and first on the Wolves in fg% among those with qualifying minutes. Last year, the Utah Jazz ranked fourth in the league, shooting 70% from the restricted area.
There is a drawback, though. All of Gobert’s shots came from the interior. He only attempted one more shot a game from outside the restricted zone, which all came from the paint area.
However, that isn’t an issue if the Wolves can deploy him similarly to Jarred Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt’s primary role as the screener and roll man in the pick-and-roll and at the dunker spot on the baseline offered enough spacing. Karl-Anthony Towns could spread the floor, D’Angelo Russell would operate around the three-point line and mid-range, and Anthony Edwards developed into a three-level scorer.
It all flowed correctly. As a result, the Wolves were one of the most potent offenses in the league despite Vanderbilt’s negative offensive in the starting lineup.
Drawing parallels to Vanderbilt again, he struggled throughout the season with securing the ball. He often would not efficiently catch dump-off passes from the attacker or completely drop them, leading to broken half-court possessions and turnovers.
On the other hand, upgrading to Gobert from the PnR and the dunker spot position is massive. It puts ball-handlers in Russell and Jordan McLaughlin in incredibly improved situations to have a positive outlet in their pick-and-roll sets. Both play at similar paces as two of Gobert’s former running mates, Mike Conley and Joe Ingles, who ran many pick-and-rolls alongside Gobert in Utah. That will set Rudy up for easy dunks and be more of a lob threat in the roll than Vando.
It’s one of the largest advantages of Minnesota’s decision to put a larger player next to KAT. This past season, Gobert led the league in dunks by a landslide. He finished with 233 dunks, 54 more than Giannis Antetokounmpo, who came in second. For context, Vanderbilt dunked the ball 117 times, ranking 14th in the league. Still, that’s half the amount of Gobert. Here are all 203 of his dunks from the 2019/2020 season.
Gobert’s interior offense is an incredibly underrated wrinkle schematically within the offense of the Wolves. Teams looking to take the extra jump into playoff relevancy often need a boost that can give them consistent play. Fortunately, that is exactly what Gobert can do.
He isn’t going to force up shots out of the post up or demand the ball. But if it falls in his hands under the rim or another player feeds him, Gobert will have a tremendously high success rate at getting the ball in the basket. Consider that the usage lost from the Gobert trade can be dispersed next year to core players such as KAT, Ant, and DLo. However, Gobert will likely have similar usage numbers that he did in Utah.
Wolves fans need to consider it will take some time for the Timberwolves to adjust when analyzing the offense with Gobert. However, an easy early schedule and facing undersized teams should magnify the support he can immediately give to ball-handlers and the team.