With the Minnesota Timberwolves sitting at 19-21 and undefeated in the new year, things are trending in the right direction. But although the team is starting to click, it’s been more than a rocky start to a highly anticipated 2022-23 campaign. Given that they acquired three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, you wouldn’t think this current Wolves team would struggle to get stops. However, that’s precisely what’s been happening; the team is currently ranked the 15th-worst defense in the NBA. They are allowing opponents to shoot 36% from three and 46% from the floor.
Gobert isn’t solely responsible for Minnesota’s defensive woes. But his inability to swat shots at an All-Defensive clip has left fans wanting more out of the 7’1” center who’s making $38 million this season.
In the 70s, the legendary Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant famously said, “Offense sells tickets. Defense wins championships.” Containing the opposition is crucial to having sustained success at any level. In the modern NBA, though, teams must have not only scorers but chemistry between them.
Depending on who you ask, most would tell you that the Wolves aren’t trying to win a championship right now. However, their current offensive firepower has the makings of a contending team – something that starts with D’Angelo Russell and Gobert’s ability to play off each other.
Looking at Minnesota’s three-point shooting numbers, it may be hard to believe that this team is a good offensive squad with “the makings of a contending team.”
- 11.1 threes made per game (22nd in the NBA)
- 32.4 threes attempted (20th)
- 34.3 three-point percentage (20th)
Malik Beasley shot 37% from deep on 8 attempts per game last season. Losing him has come back to bite a Wolves team that connected on the most threes per game (14.8) a year ago. Additionally, Karl-Anthony Towns injured his calf over two months ago and doesn’t appear close to returning.
The Wolves lack knockdown shooters on the roster due and have endured debilitating injuries. Therefore, they are no longer geared to be that fast-paced, lethal floor spacing team they were last season. The focus is now on attacking the paint and using their teamwide size as an advantage, starting with their floor general and “PG-1,” Russell.
Russell and Gobert’s chemistry hasn’t been what we had hoped heading into the year. However, DLo has been a force in Minnesota’s offense lately, filling in for Towns’ absence.
In December, Russell averaged 21 points, 6 assists, and 3 boards (12 games). DLo also shot 50% from the floor, 39% from three, and 94% from the foul stripe – the most accurate shooting numbers for any guard in December.
On top of this, Russell has also been a vocal leader, helping fill in for a Patrick Beverley-less Timberwolves squad.
Despite stepping into more of a leadership role and putting up some very solid offensive numbers, fans are still unsatisfied with Russell’s play. All the speculation and horrible mock trades on Twitter have allowed rumors to surface that DLo is on the trading block.
Given that this is the last year of his $117 million contract, it doesn’t surprise me to see Russell in mid-season trade rumors. However, if DLo would be willing to take a pay cut this offseason, I’d like to see Connelly and Co. keep him in Minnesota for many years to come.
DLo’s leadership and improved all-around play have made everyone around him better, especially Rudy Gobert.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the best Rudy yet,” Gobert said after Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers. “I’ve been putting in a lot of work. My teammates are sticking with me. The coaching staff is sticking with me. And I know that it’s going to pay off. It’s a long season.”
We saw a sincere, humble, yet confident Gobert after his 25-point, 21-rebound game against the Clippers. The Tower of Power made his impact felt from both ends of the floor as he turned in his most productive showing in a Wolves uniform.
Gobert may not be known for his offense. However, when his teammates find him in the correct spots, he can easily put up 20-plus points a night.
“It’d be great if they could throw every pass like right there, and he could just dunk it,” Chris Finch said after Friday’s game. “But we always preach like make the play that’s there in front of you, if it’s a bounce pass into the pocket Rudy’s gotta catch it, sometimes he might not. … It’s not a matter of whether he can or cannot catch the ball, ‘cause he has pretty good hands. It’s like he might be expecting it up and it comes down, and then his adjustment is a little off. But he’s gotta be ready for everything. We’re looking for him now in that pocket, and when he has momentum rolling through there, he’s drawing fouls and obviously getting to the rim.”
Finchy would go on to say that an improvement in finding Gobert down low will come with time. Some are quick to forget that Gobzilla (yes, I said it, sorry, KAT) spent his first nine seasons with one organization, under the same head coach, and executing the same game plan every night. It will take some time for Gobert to get used to playing under a brand-new system.
DLo and Gobert’s chemistry has been a work in progress. However, we have been starting to see the two gel better in recent games. As a result, the Wolves are winning. If Minnesota hopes to keep up this improved play from both ends, DLo will need to hit Gobert in key spots, and Rudy will need to continue converting those low post-shot attempts.