Wolves’ ‘lousy’ Rudy Gobert trade is starting to look great

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ acquisition of Rudy Gobert from the Utah Jazz in the summer of 2022 was initially met with skepticism and criticism. Many believed it was an all-time terrible trade, as the Wolves gave up a considerable haul of picks and players for Gobert, a traditional center with limited offensive skills. However, as the 2022-2023 NBA season has progressed, it’s becoming clear that the trade may not be as egregious as it once seemed.

The Timberwolves currently hold the NBA’s second-best record, the best in the Western Conference, and boast the best defensive rating at 108 this season. Much of their defensive success can be attributed to Gobert’s impact in the middle. The towering center is averaging 13.1 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game while boasting a defensive rating of 103.7. These numbers are reminiscent of his time with the Utah Jazz and represent a significant improvement over last season’s career-worst defensive rating of 109.5.

Under Gobert’s presence, the Timberwolves have transformed into an elite defensive team, going from the 10th rank in defensive efficiency last season to the top spot this year. Their defensive rating of 113.8 from the previous season fell just short of the league average, but they have made significant strides in stifling opponents this year.

Gobert’s impact extends beyond his defensive prowess. He has remained healthy for most of the season, missing only one game, and has improved his shooting percentage from last year to an impressive .634 from the field. He currently leads the league in defensive win shares at 2.9, further solidifying his value to the team.

Of course, the trade still came at a cost for the Timberwolves. They gave up a significant number of picks and players to acquire Gobert, including Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, and several future first-round picks. While some of the players involved in the trade are no longer with the team, the picks remain a substantial overpay in NBA history.

Critics of the trade have pointed out the Wolves’ decision to play two centers in Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns, especially considering Gobert’s age of 30 at the time of the trade. However, the duo has found a way to coexist on the court, with Gobert finally learning to play alongside Towns. Last season, the two played only 29 games together due to various injuries. This year, they have staggered their minutes, allowing each to play as the center, and the results have been impressive.

Facing Gobert remains a nightmare for opposing players. Gobert’s defensive presence is felt across all zones, with players converting at under 40% when guarded by him. His ability to shut down the paint has created a smothering defensive environment for the Timberwolves, with Towns adding to the team’s length and defensive capabilities.

Gobert’s on-court performance this season has put him back in the conversation for the Defensive Player of the Year award. His impact has anchored the Timberwolves’ league-leading defense, surrendering a mere 108.7 points per 100 possessions. Gobert ranks among the league leaders in total rebounds, rebounds per game, blocks, field goal percentage, and defensive win shares.

In a recent interview, Gobert expressed his thoughts on how the center position has evolved in the NBA, with more centers shooting threes and defending the perimeter. This was seen as a knock against the trade initially, as Gobert was perceived to be lacking in these areas. However, he has shown improvement in switching on the perimeter, thanks in part to playing alongside teammates who excel in perimeter defense.

The upgrade in defensive ability from Gobert’s teammates has been instrumental in making the Gobert-Towns pairing work in Minnesota. The Timberwolves’ size and defensive prowess were on full display in last year’s Play-In game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. If Gobert can stay healthy, there is potential for this Wolves team to become one of the best defensive squads of all time.

Ultimately, the success of the trade and the legacy of Gobert in Minnesota will be determined by the team’s performance in the playoffs. The postseason will serve as the ultimate test of the Wolves’ defensive construction and will dictate the long-term impact of the trade. Nevertheless, as the team continues to thrive with Gobert in the middle, the trade is beginning to look less like a terrible move and more like a shrewd acquisition for the Timberwolves.

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