Each week throughout the 2022-23 NBA season, we’ll be delving deeper into some of the league’s biggest storylines to determine if the trends are based more on fact or fiction.
That Rudy Gobert Trade is a terrible disaster
If the The Minnesota Timberwolves offered to double Tim Connelly’s salary and give him an undisclosed participation when he changed teams as senior basketball manager, Denver nuggets Governor Josh Kroenke described the pursuit of their Northwest Division rival as the “desperate“Moving a Team Behaving Like”a startup.”
Little did he know how desperate new Timberwolves owners Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez were.
After a month on the job, Connelly traded three players from a playoff rotation with 46 wins and seven first-round draft picks this decade – Leandro Bolmaro (2020), Walker Kessler (2022), unprotected picks in 2023, 2025 and 2027, a top 5 protected pick in 2029 and a swap in 2026 – to the Utah jazz for three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. The price shocked competing executives and Minnesota’s own players.
As a Wolves veteran bull prince put it according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, “It wasn’t that it put us in a bad mood, but, uh, we were surprised.” Not exactly the endorsement you want to hear when you’re betting the long-term future of your franchise on a man you think can deliver a championship in the next four years.
The first 15 games of this season have given no indication that pundits who widely planned the deal were misguided. Wolves are average or worse in every way imaginable, and their most glaring weaknesses are the very issues they should have worried about paying a royal ransom for a 30-year-old center who has had a win in the last four years in the playoff series, despite winning 50 games each season.
Presumably, Minnesota took over Gobert to improve on last season’s 13th defense and create more offensive space than his on-screen setup and rim-running allows. Except anyone watching the NBA should have known that Gobert was going to rob the Wolves of what made them special – the unleashing of All-NBA 7-Footers Karl-Anthony-Citiesone of the great shooting bigs in NBA history, as a small-ball center.
Minnesota outscored opponents last season by 5.6 points per 100 possessions, centered on Towns, putting in a higher batting average than the best offenses ever played in the game. according to cleaning the glass. The presence of defensive stalwarts Patrick Beverly and Jared Vanderbiltboth able to switch multiple positions at the perimeter prevented Minnesota from succumbing to Towns’ weaknesses at that end.
Towns has already played more as a power forward than all of last season and the results have been disastrous. The Wolves put up the equivalent of a top 3 defense when Gobert and Towns share court but score at a bottom 3 rate in the same minutes, resulting in a net rating of -2.5 points per 100 possessions. It was even worse when only Gobert was on the floor. Offense was even better than last season in formations with Towns and without Gobert, but these units only marginally outperform opponents because Kyle Anderson and Jaden McDaniels don’t mask as many defensive problems.
The choice is now between good defense and bad attack or bad defense and good attack.
Gobert is far from unlocking the pick and roll style of D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards. Russell and Gobert execute the sixth most pick and rolls of any combination in the league, producing at an average rate (0.981 points per chance). Edwards and Gobert are also among the top-30 duos, scoring just .798 points for each possession that Edwards shoots straight, is fouled, flipped, or passes to someone who fires immediately from the pick-and-roll. That ranks 122nd out of 138 tandems that ran at least 50 pick-and-rolls per second spectrum. As Kevin O’Connor from The Ringer written downEdwards has passed Gobert only twice in the 125 pick-and-rolls they’ve combined.
When Edwards needed 10 games to log his first dunk of the season, he has told reporters, “You watch the game. Every time I get to the edge I don’t get a chance to dive. All are in color. I have to figure out how to put the ball up. I’m all 6-4, I can’t just jump over everyone. I’m not as tall as Giannis [Antetokounmpo]. Everyone begs me to dip the ball like it’s just peaches and cream. I need to find a good lane to dunk the ball. Every time I drive, it’s five people. It’s quite difficult for me to finish the layups, I would say.”
This is nothing but a direct shot at Gobert. The same goes for Edwards after losing to Vanderbilt, Malik BeasleyKessler and the Jazz in the second game of the year: “The smaller we go, the better it is for me.“
That’s the problem with cashing in all your trade chips to build a 21-year-old. Towns and Gobert should be the leaders in Minnesota’s dressing room, but both have histories of passive collide with more assertive co-stars. Everyone in the organization understands that Edwards will eventually be the alpha dog in Minnesota, but he’s not ready to take on that mantle — at least not for a team ready to fight.
Edwards called his team “soft,” and his disinterest is palpable.
It’s not a good sign if the #1 overall pick concedes in the 2020 draft.”It’s normal for me to be bad at back-to-backsWorse still, Towns — the league’s top pick five years ahead of Edwards — threw gasoline on the fire, telling reporters, “Maybe I could teach him better about taking care of his body, his diet and everything.” . That’s gonna be on me. I know you guys think it’s funny up here when he talks about Popeyes and all that shit. I’m not happy to hear that. We are top athletes.”
For any signal that the Timberwolves should be better — they’re somehow the second-worst defensive rebounding team in the league and allow more second-chance points (18.5 per game) than anyone with two 7-footers in the starting lineup — there are a handful more that suggest they are. Her shooting efficiency ranks in the top 10, but her offensive rating is barely average. They don’t create high quality 3 point looks nor show anyone making them reliable and they spin the ball a ton.
The reverse is true for their opponents, who shoot below their expected percentages on a variety of high-quality 3-point chances, and Minnesota’s leaky transition defense facilitates scoring chances.
All of this should have been expected when the team considered acquiring Gobert. But it did it anyway, and it’s nowhere nearer the competition – and maybe even further away. Edwards is no guarantee of being No. 1 on a team that could win a title, and if he does, Gobert will be nearing his mid-30s when it happens and certainly the subject of years of sharpshooting over his penchant for the clog paint.
Meanwhile, the Timberwolves could lose Russell’s maximum pay spot if they can’t flip his contract before he reaches a free hand. More likely, it will cost Minnesota assets to unwind Russell’s deal — devastating, when you think about it what it gave up to get him. Or worse, the Wolves could reinvest in Russell and that mediocrity.
The most likely scenario after 15 games in the Gobert experiment is that it will force another panic move this year or next, maybe even Towns’ split. It doesn’t work It will not work. The only other option is to trade Gobert, and there may not be a team that would pay half the price for Gobert that Minnesota paid.
It’s hard to imagine a trade that was worse under the circumstances. Bill Russell didn’t want to participate in the St. Louis Walks. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wanted out Milwaukee Bucks. The wolves didn’t have to do that.
The closest comparison at this point is the Brooklyn Networks‘ 2013 trade for the aging duo of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who delivered a lone playoff win for the Nets before returning to the picks Boston Celtics became Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. We knew then that it was bad, but we didn’t know it would get this bad.
This has the same feeling and it could get worse terribly fast.
The Timberwolves (7-8) are 10th in a crowded Western Conference and are clinging to the final play-in tournament spot a month into the season. The defending champion Warriors of the Golden State have yet to enter the fight, and everyone else before Minnesota should stay in the race – except jazz. Wolves might not make the playoffs anyway, but can you imagine Utah preventing them from even securing a play-in spot?
The Jazz have less incentive to lose now that they own Minnesota’s unprotected first-round pick of 2023, which currently has two losses behind them to secure a 9% chance of a touchdown Generational Perspective Victor Wembanyama. After that come four more picks, the last of which is due around Gobert’s 37th birthday.
You know who could use those pickaxes? Connelly, whose forte at Denver was his ability to identify talent in drafting, including Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Bone Hyland. Well, aside from his first step as an executive — trading the No. 27 that Gobert went to Utah in 2013 for a pittance.
Determination: Fact. The Gobert trade is a terrible disaster.
– – – – – – –