Rudy Gobert is Who Timberwolves Thought He Was

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Minnesota Timberwolves
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Rudy Gobert has been the most dominant defensive force in the NBA for the better part of a decade, and he has the hardware to show it. You name the defensive award and you can guarantee Gobert has taken it home, at some point or another, including three defensive player of the year awards in ’17-’18, ’18-’19 and ’20-’21.

  • (3) Defensive Player of the Year
  • (6) All-Defensive Team
  • (1) Block Champion
  • (4) All-NBA Selections
  • (1) Rebound Champion
  • (3) All-Star

Rudy Gobert Compared to All-Time Great Bigs

According to Basketball Reference, Gobert’s first 10 years in the league puts him in a class with some of the most iconic big men in NBA history, using to similarity score. Patrick Ewing’s first decade in the league has the highest similar score (89.4 out of 100), when compared to Rudy’s, followed by Bob Lanier (88.8), Moses Malone (88.2) and Dwight Howard (87.3).

Thru First 10 YearsYearly Win Shares (Best to Worst)
PlayerSim
Score
12345678910
Rudy Gobert14.414.311.711.310.79.38.17.86.40.4
Patrick Ewing89.413.513.11310.910.6108.13.53.1
Bob Lanier88.814.412.410.610.310.110.18.45.95.2
Moses Malone88.215.415.114.113.711.910.28.76.11.9
Dwight Howard87.314.413.813.212.99.78.67.77.67.3
Zelmo Beaty87.11615.111.810.810.38.45.24.84.5
Nikola Jokić87.115.615.214.911.810.79.89.76.7

Gobert falls flat in 1st year with Minnesota Timberwolves

But, when Gobert came to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the biggest blockbuster trade in franchise history, he was a shell of the dominant defender he had come to be known for.

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He posted the worst defensive rating (109) and block % (3.9%) of his career and the worst VORP (1.4) and rebound % (21.2%) since his rookie year. As a result, the Timberwolves’ season was disappointing and the trade was dubbed a disaster.

Rudy back to himself in year two as Wolves blossom

Something has changed so far this season, though. The Wolves are 5-2 and they’ve won 4-straight, thanks in no small part to Rudy Gobert’s re-emergence as one of the best bigs in the NBA. If you’re watching games, you’ll notice ball-handlers and shooters avoid him like the plague. They dribble in, just to dribble right back out, or just avoid the paint all together.

The numbers tell the same story. The 31-year-old French 7-footer is leading the NBA in rebounds per game (13.6), rebound % (22.9%) and defensive win shares (0.7). Remember that career worst 109 defensive rating he had last season? Forget about it because he’s on a career pace (95) to start the season.

As a team, nobody wants to play offense against the Minnesota Timberwolves right now, especially in the half-court. They rank 1st in the NBA in defensive rating (101.54), which is more than 4 points better than the 2nd place Orlando Magic. Their Adjusted defensive rating is even better (99.18) and also ranks more than 5 points higher than the 2nd place New York Knicks.

After the Wolves 4th-straight win on Wednesday night, Rudy was asked if he feels “back to his old self”, Gobert said no. He feels better, stronger and smarter on the basketball floor than he ever has before, which bodes well for Wolves fans.

“Not even my old self. I feel better than I’ve ever felt because I feel like I’m stronger than I’ve been. And I just see the experience that I have now, and you add that to the rest of the abilities that I have, I think that’s the best that I’ve been.”

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Gobert bringing it on offense too

But the most exciting part of Gobert’s sudden turnaround may be his offense. If not his offense, then just the way he flows within it. This may not be the best statistical offensive run of his career, but it’s probably the most promising.

His teammates are looking for lobs to Rudy whenever they get a chance, whether it be on the fast break of off the half-court pick and roll. And the results… have been fantastic. The clip below perfectly encapsulates what we’ve seen from Gobert on both sides of the floor, so far this season.

He perfectly defends Kristaps Porzingis from the 3pt line, all the way down to the paint. He doesn’t get the block but forces a high-level difficulty shot. On the rebound, Porzingis jumps into Gobert and falls to the ground like he just ran into a tree.

The Wolves outlet the rebound and push pace, which allows Rudy to get a head start down the court on Porzingis. Ball goes from point, to wing, and perfectly lobbed for the streaking 7-footer to bang it home. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you play basketball.

Is this really happening…?

I’m trying to temper my excitement and expectations for this Minnesota Timberwolves team. The problem, however, is that they blow even my biggest expectations out of the water just about every time I watch them play lately.

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They’ve beaten some of the best teams in the NBA, which we’ve seen before, but then, like last night vs the mid New Orleans Pelicans, the Wolves came ready to play and dominated the entire contest from wire-to-wire. And that, for sure, is not something we have seen from the inconsistent Wolves teams of years past.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan