Rudy Gobert: Can A Seven Footer Raise The Ceiling?

Rudy Gobert

Players in the NBA are hitting the trade market left and right, not very surprising for the league. Stars like Dejounte Murray and Kevin Durant, while on a very different level of stardom, command massive movement of assets and change the complexion of entire conferences.

The biggest haul of free agency (so far) has been for former Jazz center Rudy Gobert. The three-time defensive player of the year, had five players, three unprotected first-round picks, a top-five protected pick, and a 2026 pick swap be traded in exchange for his services.

The Timberwolves, who were also in on Dejounte Murray, sent a bunch of glue guys and draft capital to a, probably, rebuilding Jazz team for the piece they believe will take them over the top. They also got to keep one of their favorite young guys in Jaden McDaniels.

From Jon Krawczynski, Senior Writer at The Athletic, covering the Timberwolves:

https://twitter.com/JonKrawczynski/status/1542985852791529473?s=20&t=fhmxha7UrJIT90xGWnzBEg

Minnesota’s starting lineup will probably look like this heading into next year

PG: D’Angelo Russell, SG: Anthony Edwards, SF: Jaden McDaniels, PF: Karl Anthony-Towns, C: Rudy Gobert

Tim Connelly’s new front office took their home run swing within the first month of being in the Twin Cities. By passing on sending about 3 firsts for Dejounte Murray, keeping D’Angelo Russell, and selling the farm for Gobert, the Wolves locked themselves to this core long term. One of the highest-paid executives in basketball believes this elevates Minnesota to a championship ceiling.

Will all the chips down, it’s time to speculate if the Timberwolves now have an opportunity to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy.

What Rudy Brings to the T-Wolves

The obvious benefit of this move is putting a world-class defender next to Karl Anthony Towns. This also means that when Rudy Gobert and Towns are both on the floor together Towns will play the 4 instead of the 5. This has been a position move many fans of the wolves have talked about for years. With KAT not having strong skill in rim protection, Rudy Gobert will help supplement the paint defense in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves were one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in basketball last season. Averaging 32.9 rebounds per game, the Wolves were 25th out of 30 in defensive rebounds. With the help of Rudy Gobert that number should turn around next year. The Jazz as a team, averaged 35.6 rebounds per game, Rudy alone averaged 11 boards per game (14.7 total rebounds per game).

One guy who has to be very excited about the Gobert trade is D’Angelo Russell. Not only does it mean he gets to stay instead of the Wolves trading for someone like Murray, but he gets a lob threat to throw to. Nearly half of Gobert’s field goal attempts are dunks, if Finch wants to incorporate a pick-and-roll game with him and D-Lo, it could benefit their counting stats considerably.

Looking at these facets of his game, it’s clear why Connelly’s T-Wolves chose the Frenchman. But there should still be significant concerns with Rudy’s game and fit for Minnesota moving forward.

How This Deal Could Fail

With Minnesota now becoming an on-paper contender in the Western Conference, there’s plenty of excitement. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some potential major hangups that put into question the longevity of this lineup.

There needs to be an examination of Rudy’s offensive prowess. He’s not known as a skilled offensive player, primarily a three-foot and in player. Rudy has issues with ball security, ranking as the 30th highest turnover rate in the association. Of the 29 players ahead of him, none of them have as high a VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) as Gobert.

Along with the turnovers, there isn’t much to Rudy’s offensive game outside of dunking. Once again, not known as an offensive star. His contract is massive for someone who can’t anchor an offensive set, which we’ll get into later. A point that has been brought up amongst Wolves fans is the Jazz’s offensive efficiency. That number however was better in spite of Rudy’s involvement.

In a great video done by BBALLBREAKDOWN, it is clear that the Jazz’s offense got more efficient when Rudy got fewer touches. A major talking point in basketball circles was the lack of passes to Rudy Gobert from Donovan Mitchell in recent years. Mitchell, along with the rest of the team was not giving Rudy Gobert as many feeds as they did a handful of years ago. The Jazz offensive rating went up each year from 2018.

Even when Rudy gets an offensive rebound he has issues with control, as defenders have got a good habit of stripping the ball away from him. Rudy’s only offense in his latter days with the Jazz seemed more spontaneous than planned. When his role was just to set screens on-ball and off-ball, the Jazz’s offense was improved. When Gobert and Mitchell were together on the court the lowest amount over their tenure together and fewer passes to Gobert, the Jazz’s offense was 1st in offensive rating.

Another hinder to an offense with Rudy Gobert is how the defense can scheme against them. As pointed out in the video linked above, when the Suns played against the Jazz, Ayton was able to just zone against Gobert. In turn, it clogged up lanes for his teammates, and Ayton didn’t have to have his whole attention on Gobert.

Rudy’s defense has been generational, considered one of, if not the best rim protector in the NBA’s history. That has been the case in every full regular season output he’s had. The playoffs have been a very different story. Although a small sample size, in six games the Dallas Mavericks were able to attack the Jazz near the tin, sporting a rim-FG% of 59.1% against Rudy Gobert.

The Jazz’s playoff struggles have been documented time and time again. Two pillars of thought diverge from this failure, Rudy’s fault or the Jazz’s personnel around Gobert’s limits. The answer is closer to the middle, lame I know, but Rudy deserves a fair share of the blame.

Gobert cannot extend his defense to the perimeter and with the Jazz’s lack of wing defense, it consistently blew any deep playoff run hopes into smithereens. The Clippers upset the 1-seeded Jazz in 2020 by raining threes in a 5-out offense. Rudy Gobert looked lost at points, as his defense is best served dropping into coverage in the paint.

When the Jazz played the Nuggets in the postseason bubble, Nikola Jokic carved up Rudy Gobert and his Jazz. Not that he’s alone in getting torched by the 2-time MVP, but Jokic killed them from distance, shooting nearly 48% from three in those seven matchups.

Lastly, is the contract hit. Rudy Gobert is set to make over $150 million over the next four seasons. In 2025 he has a $46,655,173 player option he will almost certainly opt into. That is the seventh-highest contract in terms of guaranteed money in the entire league. His massive contract and Ben Simmons’ stand out as guys without an impressive offensive arsenal at the top of the league in salary.

The Timberwolves are fully committed to this Rudy Gobert in Minnesota experiment. With Minnesota, Rudy Gobert will have pieces around him he doesn’t have much experience with. Another seven-footer next to him will certainly be interesting. If the Wolves will have trouble defending against one kind of lineup, it will be small-ball. It’s not like KAT and Rudy Gobert will be glued to each other at all points during gameplay, but two trees guarding teams like the Golden State Warriors could be disastrous.

Regardless of all the armchair GMing, Connelly and the Wolves have most of their future cast set for them. They will have to deal with the ups and downs of their new core. For a franchise that has only made it out of the first round once, it signals a massive uptick in regular-season success and postseason intrigue.

In a hyper-competitive Western Conference though, it’s hard to see a championship ceiling on the Timberwolves. There are massive limitations with this group and their new star, it’s unlikely this move creates a postseason run past the second round. For a success-starved fanbase, I hope that I will be proven wrong.

Stats provided by Basketball-Reference and RealGM

 


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