NBA – Rudy Gobert at the Minnesota Timberwolves: a trade, five questions

The free agency had already offered us fireworks even before it opened this week. Mic-mac Kyrie Irving, XXL contracts at all costs, Kevin Durant’s request to leave… All that was missing was one of these “blockbuster trades” of which the NBA has made itself queen to complete the whole thing. This one took place on Friday, with Rudy Gobert as the centerpiece. The French player leaves Utah, where he played his first nine seasons in the NBA, towards Minnesota in an exchange comprising five players and four draft rounds. This transfer comes to put an end to the suspense which reigned around the pivot, put on the market by the Jazz for weeks. But for what consequences?

Gobert to Wolves, is it a surprise?

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The departure of Rudy Gobert was inevitable, after almost a decade in the Salt Lake City franchise. The group around Gobert, guard Donovan Mitchell and coach Quin Snyder will have shown a lot of promise, even finishing at the top of the Western Conference just over a year ago, without managing to cross real levels once the play-offs come. The diagnosis of an end of cycle was then no longer in doubt.

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From this relentless observation and a still heavy climate between the two stars of the team was born the conclusion that Gobert and/or Mitchell had to leave the ship, a few weeks after Snyder had done the same. Seeing the Habs land in Minneapolis seemed much less obvious. The most interested candidates had either already positioned themselves on other movements (Atlanta with the arrival of Spur Dejounte Murray, Dallas which recovered Houston pivot Christian Wood at the start of the summer), or were shown to be quite cautious when pulling the trigger (Toronto, Chicago). Minnesota did not do the same, offering more than substantial consideration to Utah to close the deal.

What impact for Rudy Gobert?

The Wolves were announced to be looking for a defensive pivot this summer, a profile of which Rudy Gobert is undoubtedly the perfect example in the NBA. Who else then the triple best defender of the season to fill this gap? We will not have to expect a revolution with this change of club. In a franchise already well endowed with offensive talents (Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell…), Gobert could even see the ball even less in attack than in Utah. His mission will be simple: protect the racket from the Wolves, still far from being a frightening pack on this side of the floor.

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Rudy Gobert will also bring his experience to a group still under construction, which has just obtained only its second qualification in the final phase in the last 18 seasons. The twist of the story is fun. Just named president of the franchise, Tim Connelly made Gobert his first major move, he who was the general manager who had drafted the native of Saint-Quentin with the Denver Nuggets in 2013 … and had traded him in stride in Utah.

Rudy Gobert – Karl-Anthony Towns, dream racket in Minneosta?

On paper, the arrival of Rudy Gobert in Minnesota is enough to raise more than one eyebrow. The Wolves count as the main star the N.1 of the 2015 draft Karl-Anthony Towns, who plays in the same position as Gobert. All the more surprising given that Towns sealed his future a little more with his lifelong franchise by signing a four-year, $224 million contract extension on Thursday. Have Wolves fallen on their heads? Let’s say their leaders are more daring than crazy. Faced with the lack of defensive fundamentals and hardness of “KAT”, “Minny” is betting on an association between two almost diametrically opposed players rather than looking for another piece more complementary to the workforce already in place than Towns.

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The question lies in the ability of the Dominican player, 2.11m and 112 kilos, to shift to the position of strong winger, his speed, especially in terms of support, is far from being strength. Karl-Anthony Towns has never played in a position other than a pivot in his career, and seeing him evolve in position 4 in an NBA focused on more mobility may seem incongruous. But his quality of shooting, unique in its kind for a player of this size, should allow him to cohabit offensively without problem with Rudy Gobert. The Habs have already evolved in sequence with another strong interior at their side in the French team, like Vincent Poirier during the last Olympics, and with success. Experimentation is not without risk. But she does provide Wolves with a pair of top-notch striker and elite defender in her paint. The kind of risk to take to hope to continue their ascent.

Can Gobert aim for the title more in Minnesota than in Utah?

Mainly surrounded by Donovan Mitchell in recent seasons in Utah, Rudy Gobert has never gone beyond the conference semifinals. The addition of additional players with a serious pedigree (Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic) did not allow the Jazz to pass this course and really place themselves in the category of title contenders. Minnesota is even further from it, the Wolves were taken out of the first round of the play-offs this season by Memphis. They had also been mocked for their celebrations after their qualification during the play-in, worthy of those of a very big meeting.

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The Timberwolves have pinned this lack of winning culture to the body as a historical shortcoming. But Gobert still has some grounds for hope. The current group of Minnesota still has a real room for improvement. Never has the Frenchman been surrounded by so many offensive weapons, like Anthony Edwards, who seemed on the way to becoming the boss of this workforce. And the winger has just two seasons in the NBA behind him. “Gobzilla” is leaving a struggling team to join a franchise with the wind at its back. This is already progress.

Jazz, now what?

Salt Lake City fans can take heart. Gobert’s departure is obviously a huge loss as his defensive presence alone made the whole team better around him. But his departure was admirably well negotiated by the new Utah management team around former Boston Celtics manager Danny Ainge. Reputed to be a fierce negotiator, the GM leaves with several already well-established role players in the NBA (Patrick Beverley, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt) as parts to rebuild… or as a new bargaining chip.

Above all, Ainge obtained from Wolves four first rounds of draft, including three unprotected, at once every two years until the end of the decade. So many elements on which to build the future or set up other future transfers. If the Gobert experiment were to go wrong at Wolves, these picks could then become very valuable assets, and for a long time. It remains to be seen whether Utah will also part ways with their other star Donovan Mitchell and start from scratch, or make “Spida” the indisputable pillar around which to lay new foundations. With Walker Kessler, the player selected by the Wolves in the last draft and obtained in the exchange this Friday, the Jazz have already recovered an almost ideal player to replace position for position Gobert as a high-flying bully (2.16m, 4.6 college average blocks). And if in the end, everyone came out a winner?

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