September 24, 2022

Let’s get that out of the way.

Yes, the Minnesota Timberwolves vastly overpaid in their effort to bring three-time All-Star Rudy Gobert to Minneapolis. There’s simply no other way to put it, as the offset project alone has seen an alarming amount of future assets flow out. It’s usually the type of all-in move teams make when they’re one step away from a title, not coming off a season that resulted in a seventh seed.

So, yeah, “value” is bad, but I don’t want that totally eclipse what they’ve done here pitch-wise.

This team, especially in the regular season, is going to be absolutely great. I really liked the way Britt Robson of MinnPost compared it to “paying $20 million for a $10 million house” on the latest episode of The Dane Moore podcast. The good thing about overpaying for the 10 million dollar house is that you still have the 10 million dollar house, you know?

Wolves, quite clearly, have bought a window here, extending by the end of Gobert’s contract (2026). I don’t know if I would have bet such dramatic capital on this when two of your most important players are still 21 or younger, but based on the aggressive nature of the current minority owner and future governor of Wolves, Marc Lore, I’m betting he just thinks they’ll start again once the Gobert contract is up and Anthony Edwards is still only 24 or 25.

Of all the risks, the one I appreciate the most is daring to think outside the box. This quote from a recent article by Jon Krawczynski on The Athletic in particular struck me.

I didn’t get the idea that Karl-Anthony Towns is a 4 defensively, but Gobert fits so perfectly to cover Towns’ gaps that I can kind of see the vision there now.

One of the main gripes people seem to have nationwide about this ‘fit’ is that Wolves could have tried to find a cheaper option first to get proof that the concept will work, but I would push back a little. .

For one thing, KAT has genuinely played the 4 on offense for a lot more of his career than we realize. He may have been the tallest player on the ground and took the ball to open games, but he played alongside a non-shooter so often that he was almost always the de facto 4 in attack. . Whether it’s Jarred Vanderbilt, Taj Gibson or Gorgui Dieng, Towns has plenty of experience as an attacking 4, with plenty of success.

If anything, I imagine this move will give him more room to operate than he had in the starting lineup last year.

The only thing that could put Wolves’ offense in the mud last year was getting defender Jarred Vanderbilt from dunking to doubling Towns. In large part, this strategy worked so effectively because even when his man left him, Vando still wasn’t much of a threat. He was an incredible part of the 2021-22 squad that we won’t soon forget, but his poor hands and limited offensive repertoire around the rim meant teams didn’t think twice about doubling him. It’s a lot harder to do that now because not only does Gobert have good hands, but he’s 7’1″ tall with a 7’9″ wingspan. If you leave Gobert open near the edge, it’s an easy lob for a dunk. That’s how he gives you spacing without being a shooter.

In comparison, I’m a little less convinced of the defensive fit, partly because I think the offense is going to be amazing. What I can’t deny, however, is that with this move Wolves are fully relying on Towns’ strengths as a defender. KAT is not a great defender, but a solid one who moves his feet particularly well for his size. We saw that last year, where he had arguably his best defensive season while spending more time on the perimeter sliding his feet with guards at the offensive point. His work will be different now, but at the very least I can appreciate the team trying to build on his strengths.

Beyond my optimistic view of the fit, however, I found the “proof of concept” stuff to be a bit silly in general. The modern NBA is bigger than a wing, sure, but it’s not like teams playing big twos aren’t relevant. Dwight Howard and Marc Gasol played valuable minutes alongside Anthony Davis in the Lakers’ run to a championship in the Orlando bubble. The Bucks’ entire recent run has been based on Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez erasing the rim and the boards.

Going back a bit further, I thought about how the only team not led by LeBron James to really strike fear into the healthy Golden State Warriors was the 2016 Oklahoma City Thunder, which blew a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals. .

(Editor’s note: Sorry, Mike. Game 6 Klay, baby!)

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the big names on this Thunder team, sure, but the Thunder really took control of this series (before Game 6 Klay broke) by absolutely mauling Golden State on the backboards with a combination of Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter. It ultimately didn’t work out in part because Klay went nuclear, but even in a losing effort OKC was +35 on the boards in this series.

I’m not saying there won’t be challenges, and teams like the Clippers will surely inspire Chris Finch to get creative or make tough rotation decisions. However, there are more ways to win basketball games than going all-in on the wings. Some people may not like to hear that basketball is actually a math problem to some extent, but when the object of the game is to to add more points on your side of the ledger than your opponent, that’s just to a certain extent.

Wolves are set to dominate the possession battle this season due to their ability to clean the glass on both ends, plus what Gobert’s presence at the rim does for their full-backs. At this point, Wolves are not only going to be positive in the possession battle due to their improved rebound, but also in their ability to force turnovers. Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels are already good at forcing flights and getting into transition, but there’s a lot less downside to taking a risk and jumping overtaking lanes now.

Ant may not have been willing to admit Gobert is a generational rim protector last December, but his game on the floor will soon reflect that he understands that now. If Ant’s bets on the wing last year were like doubling your 11 with the dealer showing a face card, now they’re akin to doubling your 11 with the dealer showing a 6. Even though he and/or Jaden don’t get the steal, the opponent is still likely to end up with a shoddy look anyway due to the presence Gobert brings to the rim. Wolves take an unconventional route to adding possessions, but it’s worth exploring. Simply put, when you give yourself more scoring opportunities with a star as effective in half-court as Towns and a rising star as explosive in transition as Edwards, good things will follow.

The big difference for Wolves is that most teams that get big end up doing so by sacrificing spacing.

NBA All-Star 2022 - MTN DEW 3-Point Contest

This guy has something to say about it…
Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

They won’t, mainly because one of their 7-footers is a 40+ percent 3-point shooter, and the other is possibly the best vertical spacer in the NBA. That doesn’t even take into account Edwards’ drive over the arc and over the rim.

Especially compared to the 2021-22 team, they should be just as good, if not better, on the offensive glass, while being a significantly better defensive rebounding team. It’s not as sexy as some other parts of basketball, but maintaining an edge in the possession battle is one of the hallmarks of most great teams. Wolves are now built to do just that, without having to surrender as many runs from the three-point line as the 2016 Thunder did.

So yeah, technically there’s no proof of concept here, in that Towns hasn’t played alongside a non-shooter in the front court on offense or guarded the perimeter defensively since… the last season. But other than that, I really like the fit.

It’s going to be a damn good team, and it’s refreshing to finally have a front office/ownership collective trying to win the title. That’s not when I would have pushed my tokens, or probably for that many tokens, but I won’t complain (too much) that this particular franchise is finally making a real run.