Expectations Are Still High For Rudy Gobert In Minnesota

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Rudy Gobert‘s Minnesota Timberwolves era didn’t get off to a great start last season. From the time the Utah Jazz traded him to Minnesota on July 6, 2022, Gobert has taken a beating on and off the court. He picked up a few knocks during France’s run to the silver medal at Eurobasket 2022, which led to a limited first training camp with the Timberwolves. That early setback set the tone for his first season with the Wolves.

Gobert never quite clicked with his young teammates, especially Karl-Anthony Towns, who missed 52 games with a calf injury. Gobert struggled through his worst season since he became a full-time starter in 2015-16. It all culminated in Gobert punching Kyle Anderson during the last regular season game against the New Orleans Pelicans, culminating in a one-game suspension for the play-in loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

This offseason was supposed to get better for Gobert, but so far it’s been more of the same for the 31-year-old. Gobert made the decision to play again for France at the FIBA World Cup. However, Latvia ceremoniously eliminated Les Bleus after blowing a late lead to Latvia less than a year before France hosts the 2024 Olympics. To make matters worse, he’s not even the big French guy in the NBA. Victor Wembanyama has taken that title.

Gobert now heads into Season 2 in Minnesota with major question marks. Can he get back to his All-Defensive peak form he enjoyed for a decade in Utah? Will he become the player the Wolves thought they were getting to pair with their young stars to vault into contention in the Western Conference? Most Timberwolves fans would be okay with trading Gobert for a stale baguette and some musty cheese after last year’s debacle. However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Stifle Tower heading into Year 2.

The biggest storyline last season after the Gobert trade was how the two big lineups would work with KAT and Gobert playing together. The fit was clunky throughout most of the season, but the pair still managed to have a positive net rating while they were on the court with each other. Predictably, the defense was still dominant with Gobert on the floor, and the Wolves only allowed 105.6 points per 100 possessions with KAT and Gobert on the floor. It was the offense that was the major problem with the two seven-footers sharing the court. The Timberwolves were stuck in the mud with Gobert and Towns clogging the paint. They could only muster 106.1 points per 100 possessions which is far below Minnesota’s disappointing 23rd-ranked offense last year.

Things looked a little better in the playoffs where the Wolves produced a 114 offensive rating with the two bigs on the floor throughout the five-game series against the Denver Nuggets. Unfortunately, Nikola Jokic and the boys cut right through Minnesota’s defense, anchored by Gobert and KAT looked overmatched against the eventual champs. The defense will always have a high baseline for success as long as Gobert is playing. However, the offense needs to build on what worked during the playoffs and expand that to the full 82-game regular season slate this season.

Chris Finch and the rest of the Timberwolves’ coaching staff and front office have been loud and proud this offseason about their desire to make the two big system with Gobert and KAT work seemingly at all costs including Finch’s appearance by Finch on the Old Man and the Three Podcast with JJ Redick. For better or worse the two big system is here to stay. The good thing is that all of the main components are entering this season happy, healthy, and with a full season and offseason to work out the kinks in the offense. Mike Conley and others who played with Gobert in Utah have all mentioned that figuring out how to play with Gobert takes time and in some cases took a year or more to finally know where he was going to be and how to throw him the best lobs.

Gobert’s defense also took a dip in his first season prowling the paint inside the Target Center. He averaged the fewest blocks per game since his rookie season and struggled to make the correct decisions in drop coverage. Replacing D’Angelo Russell with Conley and Nickiel Alexander-Walker should alleviate some pressure on Gobert to clean up the messes on the perimeter, and Finch can unleash Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels to lock up opposing ballhandlers like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in the 1992 Olympics against Toni Kukoc. Gobert isn’t the ultimate eraser he was in Utah, but is still one of the better rim protectors and rebounders in the league and should have some more help on the perimeter and on the boards with a healthy Towns and Naz Reid back.

Expectations for Gobert are the lowest they’ve been since he broke out almost a decade ago. He’ll never be able to recoup the value that Tim Connelly gave up for him. But Gobert is still one of the best defenders in the NBA and has the ability to bounce back and regain his standing as a building block of a team with championship aspirations. It won’t be as one of the heads of the three-headed monster the Wolves thought they were building with the trade. Rather, he’ll be a cog in a very talented and deep team with Edwards as the superstar at the center.

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