There are those who dictate the trend, those who follow it and those… who seek to oppose it. While the NBA evolves each year a little more towards “positionless” basketball, where the “small ball” and especially its principles predominate, the Timberwolves have decided to go against the current by starting with two pivots in their five majors. . Two All-Stars, Karl-Anthony Towns and newcomer Rudy Gobert, recovered from the Jazz in exchange for four players and four pick rounds. “We gon’ play big when everybody plays small“, already warns coach Chris Finch. Others have tried before him. But “playing big”, with two control towers, has never worked to counter a “small ball” which ultimately has nothing left to do. do with the size but which mainly concerns the mobility and versatility of the players lined up on the field.
The Warriors have built their best teams based on this philosophy. The Cavaliers, their fiercest opponent, too. All recent champions have played with at least four outsiders at the same time. Even five. Even the sacred Lakers in 2020 essentially shone when Anthony Davis shifted to pivot, thus leaving LeBron James the position of strong winger theoretically – since in practice he was the one who led the game. The Bucks play with Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo but it’s still “small ball” with basketball players over 2.10 meters tall.
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The challenge that awaits Gobert and the Minneapolis franchise is therefore… daunting. So far, the French and especially his Jazz formations have shown limits in the playoffs, when their opponents spread the lines as much as possible to force him to play wide hoping to overtake him. Utah will not have finally passed the second round of the playoffs once. Even there, in one of the first preseason games, Wolves were beaten down by Lakers deprived of all their frames but who relied on five mobile players to explode the defense. Well, it’s still preparation matches without stake and Minnesota ended up winning quite clearly.
Karl-Anthony Towns jubilant after making it to the NBA All-Star Game three-point contest final in Cleveland, February 19, 2022
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To sum up the disappointments of the Jazz to a possible “weakness” of the tricolor pivot against opponents faster than him would still be exaggerated, or even simply false. Utah’s defensive problems were primarily explained by the absence of stoppers on the wings. Gobert had to plug too many holes at once. But why think it will be any different in Minnesota? With a Karl-Anthony Towns shifted by one position and therefore forced to chase smaller and more lively players away from the circle every evening? It is not even said that the guy has really become aware of the challenge that awaits him. “I don’t think it’s going to change much for me. I will continue to be that player who fills the holes, whatever the need.“, says the person concerned. Either he is only referring to his offensive game, or he is mistaken about his own abilities, or at least those he has displayed since his arrival in the NBA. D’Angelo Russell is already a weak point Towns – but also Anthony Edwards – will have to seriously challenge themselves to block their opponents, otherwise Gobert may feel lonely at times.
But his presence alone could allow the Timberwolves to progress to the point of approaching the top-10 of the best defenses in the league (13th last year, 111 points against 100 possessions). His qualities match the needs of the team. He protects the circle better than anyone in the NBA and he takes loads of rebounds. But his offensive contribution is not to be neglected. Often criticized for his inability to score in the low post, Rudy Gobert is a sometimes misunderstood striker. However, it has real strengths. Like his ability to put down real good screens, which could almost serve as decisive passes as he offers space to his teammates. Only six franchises had fewer screens than Minnesota last season. A regrettable statistic for a formation that includes Edwards and Russell, two excellent slashers.
Rudy Gobert, the ideal profile for Minnesota?
“I think this transfer is huge for D-Lo [D’Angelo Russell]. He has a big one who rolls towards the circle to which he will be able to send alley-oops“, already warns the first choice of the 2020 draft. The coming season promises to be decisive for the former Lakers player. His contract expires in 2023. And beyond the beautiful financial carrot, he must prove that he can really be one of the strong men of the project. Because in the current situation, if one of the “stars” has to be sacrificed, it will be him. Gobert is the ideal partner at his side. The native of Saint-Quentin going to open lines of penetration for him and take advantage of the lob passes from his point guard to easily score from close range.”He sees everything. There were times in training where I didn’t even know he saw me when, yes, he did every time. It’s impressive. And exciting“, remarks the interior of the Blues.
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This tandem could assert itself as one of Wolves’ strong points. The complementarity with Towns is already less obvious. In attack, it will force the American to deviate even more than more. Good for him, he likes it and he calls himself the “best interior shooter in history.“His three-point percentage speaks in his favor (41% in 2022). But there will be benchmarks to take and chemistry to develop. For the moment, the two All-Stars have not played the slightest minute together in pre-season. It is very likely that the coach will split his quartet in two: Gobert will play most of his minutes with Russell while Towns will share the pitch with Edwards. Enough to ensure a certain consistency with talented players in play throughout the game Minnesota should put up a lot of points every night.
The team will evolve. Several US media even see her very highly placed, even on the podium of the Western Conference. But that’s the excitement of novelty. Even after playing the playoffs last year, she remains far from big names like the Warriors or the Clippers. Is it really better than the Suns or the Nuggets? What about the Mavericks, Blazers, Pelicans or Grizzlies, squads that have the same ambitions as her? And that’s without even mentioning the Lakers, still led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Wolves therefore released a lot of assets – they went all-in – without being sure of really being able to win a series of playoffs (which they have not accomplished since 2004). But the opportunities to add an impact player like Rudy Gobert are few, especially for an organization that doesn’t attract top talent during the Free Agency. “There is only a small list of elite players. It’s so rare to be able to recover a basketball player who makes such a difference“, justifies the new GM Tim Connelly. The franchise has the merit of doing everything to be competitive. This is not trivial for Minnesota, a team that has only been in the top-8 twice without the presence of Kevin Garnett in the roster At this point, weighing in, getting into the playoffs consistently and maybe missing a lap is already a lot for Wolves.
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