After making their second playoff appearance in nearly 20 years, the Minnesota Timberwolves got into win-now mode with a blockbuster trade during the offseason, sending five players Y four first-round picks to the Utah Jazz in exchange for superstar center Rudy Gobert. The expectation was that pairing Gobert with fellow All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns would form a dominant duo up front and allow the franchise to continue its rise.
While there’s still a chance for that to happen, that hasn’t yet been the case for Minnesota (24-25). Just after the middle of the season, the team ranks ninth in the Western Conference and hovers around .500 practically the whole season. While competing in the middle of the pack was seen as a sign of progress for this team last season, that is no longer the case after last season’s success and the acquisition of such a highly decorated player as Gobert.
In a post-trade interview, Gobert said his goal was to compete for a championship with this team. But how has the change affected his game on the court? And has his addition to the team really made the Timberwolves better?
At first glance, Gobert’s performance this season seems comparable to what he’s done with Utah in the past. He is averaging a double-double in points (13.3) and rebounds (11.6) while recording more than one block (1.3) per game. He’s also shooting 67.8 percent from the field, which ranks second best in the NBA. But with a closer look, you’ll find this has been one of the worst statistical seasons of the big man’s 10-year career.
Gobert’s 13.3 points per game is the minor second has averaged since he took over as full-time holder for the Jazz in 2014-15. And his 1.3 blocks and 0.8 assists per game are the fewest he’s posted since his rookie season. If that holds up, this would be the only season since his rookie year that Gobert didn’t average at least two blocks per game. (It would also be the first year he didn’t finish in the league’s top 10 in the category.)
Plus, Gobert’s impact on the court has been surprisingly limited. After posting a the best RAPTOR plus/minus of his career from +7.8 in 2020-21 and after a strong mark of +6.9 last year, his RAPTOR dropped to +1.7 this season, the second-worst performance of his career (again, ahead of only his rookie year). and according to Advanced NBA Stats, we’ve never seen a more porous Gobert-led defensive effort. Minnesota’s defensive efficiency rating with Gobert on the floor, 108.7, is the worst it’s ever been, and his team’s -1.2 net rating while in the game is the lowest since his rookie season.
Those aren’t exactly the results a team would expect from trading for a three-time defensive player of the year, particularly given the T-Wolves’ needs for the season.
Last year, Minnesota had one of the best offenses in the NBA, leading the league in points per gameand the team also posted a Top 10 Offensive Efficiency Ratings (114.3). But he was also among the worst defensive teams, giving up 113.3 points one night, the seventh most in the NBA last season. One of the main goals of Gobert’s deal was to improve on that side of the court.
Since trading Gobert, Minnesota has taken a step back offensively, which, to some extent, was to be expected. The biggest blow to the French big man has been his limited offensive play. Although the team is scoring almost exactly the same number of points per game this year (115.3), which would have been tied for fourth last season, the league has caught up. This season, Minnesota is ranked 11th in points per game, and the team has fallen to 20th in offensive efficiency (113.6). But the surprising part is the lack of improvement Minnesota has shown on defense. Even with Gobert playing 40 of a possible 49 games, the team is allowing the 11th most points in the league (115.6), just a four-point improvement from last year. And his defensive efficiency rating is actually worse this season, going from 111.2 a 113.4.
With the addition of Gobert, the idea was that pairing a defensive-minded big man with a skilled, shooting big man like Towns it would allow both players to make up for the other’s shortcomings, but that simply hasn’t been the case until now. Before Towns was forced to missing time due to a calf injury, the two weren’t even among the Timberwolves’ best two-man lineups. Of the 19 couples who have logged 400 or more minutes on the court together this season, Gobert and Towns have the worst offensive rating (106.6) and the seventh worst net valuation (-0.7).
Minnesota’s new big man hasn’t been much better with the team’s other young star, Anthony Edwards, either: the pair also have a net rating of -0.7 when they share the court. And in the limited time the three stars have been on the court together, the production has been mixed. While he has been one of the best defensive combinations on the team, with a defensive rating of 106.6 (second best among three-man units on the team this season), the Gobert-Towns-Edwards trio has been the second-worst offense of any three-man lineup with more than 350 minutes together this season (with an offensive rating of 107.4). That has pushed the trio’s overall net rating to just barely break even (+0.8 points per 100 possessions) despite their abundance of talent.
It’s still too early to tell if this newly formed Timberwolves core can be good enough to play at the championship level Gobert referred to before the season. But he’s clearly off to a bad start, and it’s worrying that Gobert’s major acquisition hasn’t made the team much better yet … if he has.
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