From: Las Vegas
2. Gobert Is Worth the Risk
For the life of me, I’ll never totally understand the backlash Rudy Gobert receives on social media. I’m convinced it all stems from the moment Steph Curry put him in the spin cycle during the 2017 playoffs, and all the memes that came from it.
Gobert was slapped with a reputation as a 7-footer with lead feet who can’t move on the perimeter. And even though he dramatically improved his perimeter defense (and is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year), Utah’s annual postseason struggles have only reinforced that idea. This isn’t meant to excuse Gobert’s shortcomings. His flaws are real. But his new team is better built to compensate for his weaknesses while magnifying his strengths.
To land Gobert, the Timberwolves sent the Jazz three unprotected first-round picks (in 2023, 2025, and 2027), along with a top-five protected first in 2029, 2022 pick Walker Kessler, Patrick Beverley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, and Leandro Bolmaro. That amounts to five first-rounders between 2022 and 2029, so the Wolves will have only the ability to trade first-round swaps in 2024, 2026, and 2028 until picks in the 2030s (gulp) become available to move.
It’s a lot. But the Wolves are ready to take the next step. Anthony Edwards could be on the brink of superstardom. Both Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell are coming off the best seasons of their still-young careers. And Gobert addresses the team’s weaknesses from last season—namely rebounding and interior defense. It’s also a two-way street since the Wolves have what Gobert lacked in Utah. Gobert has never played with frontcourt partners like KAT or Jaden McDaniels. Towns is a 7-footer with an ace 3-point shot and the ability to make plays off the dribble. McDaniels is a long, rangy defender with the versatility to contain players of all sizes.
With Minnesota’s personnel, Gobert won’t be in no-win situations like he often found himself in Utah, trying to compensate for his teammates’ defensive shortcomings. With McDaniels and Towns, there are other back-line defenders if he has to shift around the court. Even Edwards, with his football-player frame, and Russell, at 6-foot-4, provide more resistance than some of Utah’s past perimeter defenders. With versatile pieces and better on-ball perimeter defense, Gobert will have the best support of his career. And the Wolves, who ranked no. 13 in defensive rating last season, could go from good to elite.
Gobert could also help Minnesota’s offense as a big who can roll to the basket and score efficiently. The Jazz ranked third in the league in efficiency last season when their big rolled, largely thanks to Gobert. So now, the Timberwolves have the NBA’s best roller in Gobert and the best pick-and-pop big in Towns. When Towns popped out of a ball screen last season, the Wolves scored 1.185 points per chance, tops in the NBA over the past two seasons, according to Second Spectrum.
Edwards and Russell should see their numbers improve in the pick-and-roll, just like Utah’s guards did for years with Gobert screening. Of the 109 ball handlers to run at least 500 pick-and-rolls last season, Russell ranked 25th in efficiency and Edwards was 60th. Now they could have either Towns or Gobert on the court for all 48 minutes. Their style disparity could make the Wolves a matchup nightmare, especially if Russell and Edwards keep improving so they can be the perimeter creators in end-game situations. And outside of pick-and-rolls, Gobert can provide better vertical spacing than Vanderbilt did as a lob threat in all situations. And if the situation calls for a five-out lineup, Wolves head coach Chris Finch has the luxury to go with Towns at the 5.
One of the biggest criticisms of the trade is Gobert’s salary; he’ll be paid an average of $42.4 million through the 2025-26 season. He is expensive. But the Jazz didn’t pay him that money because they’re generous. It’s because he’s a valued player who would have received the same money on the open market, just as he was worth the five firsts from the Timberwolves as they try to address a major need.
The price Minnesota paid does complicate new president of basketball ops Tim Connelly’s ability to make further big moves. Without a trade, Connelly won’t be drafting in the first round again until 2024. Cap room will be harder to come by. But Gobert is a massive upgrade. Minnesota needs another wing or two for this roster to feel complete. If rookie Wendell Moore can become an early contributor it would help a lot, and he certainly has the tools as a hard-nosed defender who made 41 percent of his 3s as a Duke junior. For the most part, though, the roster is in great shape after also signing Kyle Anderson and Bryn Forbes.
My boss Bill Simmons and my Mismatch podcast partner Chris Vernon, like many others in sports media, believe that the new Timberwolves ownership is just trying to make a splash. I’m sure that was a factor since ownership has a say in every trade. But it also is a sign of an ownership team willing to take big risks for the sake of winning. Connelly sold them on a player who can increase this team’s championship odds. Now it’s Gobert’s chance to prove them right.