Jace Frederick: Why a Rudy Gobert trade makes sense for the Timberwolves
Entrenching Gobert in the post defensively would likely help alleviate Towns’ foul trouble concerns and take some pressure off him altogether defensively throughout the regular season
The Timberwolves are currently void of cap space and roster spots, which for many NBA teams would figure to mean their offseason is effectively over from a transactional perspective.
But there is almost an expectation that Minnesota will make another splash sometime in July. That would have to come via trade.
And, after the Walker Kessler draft pick further suggested the Timberwolves’ preference is indeed to move Karl-Anthony Towns to the power forward position to play alongside a defensive-oriented center, it stands to reason the team would look to add a center.
There are a few names that have circulated through the rumor mill, from Indiana’s Myles Turner to Atlanta’s Clint Capela to Utah’s Rudy Gobert. The latter is easily the most accomplished player, yet the thought of acquiring Gobert seems to be a source of angst for Timberwolves fans on social media.
And their points are legitimate. Gobert is already 30 years old with four years and roughly $170 million remaining on his current deal. Pair that with Towns’ new max extension, and the Timberwolves would be sinking a large portion of their current and future budget into two legitimate bigs in an era when championship-caliber teams are centered on versatility.
Could a Towns-Gobert front court sustain itself defensively against smaller lineups in playoff games? That remains to be seen. And an acquisition of Gobert would erase the max cap space Minnesota is currently set to possess heading into next summer. So perhaps the trepidation is warranted.
But so is the reason for Minnesota’s current interest in the Utah big man. It’s easy to forget the type of game-changer he is. The 7-foot-1 center is a three-time all-star and three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He is the best defensive player in basketball by nearly every metric. He is consistently one of the most impactful regular-season players by most metrics. He is the primary reason Utah finishes in the top five in the Western conference seemingly every season.
Utah allowed just 104.5 points per 100 possessions defensively last season with Gobert on the floor. That number spiked to 112.3 when he was on the bench. The offensive numbers were nearly identical when he was on the court or off.
Whether or not you agree with the Timberwolves going big is one thing. There are certainly questions here about the viability of such a choice eventually leading to a championship. But if that is the direction the franchise chooses to travel, there likely is no one better to do it with.
Entrenching Gobert in the post defensively would likely help alleviate Towns’ foul trouble concerns and take some pressure off him altogether defensively throughout the regular season. And doubling Towns becomes increasingly more difficult when someone with Gobert’s rim finishing and offensive rebounding acumen is waiting in the opposite dunker spot.
Few teams possess the quality wing depth to where Towns having to defend on the perimeter would be a glaring issue. Sure, there is the potential for Gobert to limit Minnesota’s ceiling at a certain point in the future, but he also would undoubtedly raise the team’s current floor.
New Timberwolves basketball boss Tim Connelly repeatedly has stated his goal for this team to become a first-round home-court playoff advantage team — which means finishing in the top four in the West in the regular season. Once you reach that height, you take your chances in the postseason.
Acquiring Gobert would move Minnesota much closer to that goal much earlier in Anthony Edwards’ career. That would be a win for the Timberwolves. And if coach Chris Finch could crack the riddle that is defending with bigs in the postseason, maybe Minnesota actually could make a run into May for the first time in 19 years.
And while Gobert will just have turned 34 years old by the end of his current contract, defensive centers age fairly well. Marc Gasol was 34 years old when he served as a key catalyst to Toronto’s title run.
As for the salary cap space, it’s always a great concept to have the money to sign big names, but as history has shown, it’s another thing to actually be able to do it. Many elite players are drawn to the coasts when given the opportunity to sign wherever they want. For the Timberwolves, acquiring a max player most likely will always occur through a trade.
And Gobert is a max player, one who could help turn the Timberwolves into a defensive stalwart. What a wild thought.
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