Let’s call a spade a spade, the first 20+ games of Rudy Gobert’s Minnesota Timberwolves tenure were a bit rocky. The team that came into the season with expectations of winning ~50 games started off the year playing disinterested, lifeless, lazy basketball. Occam’s Razor pointed the finger at the trade that sent out Patrick Beverley, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Malik Beasley — three guys that, above all else, play with effort every night. It made the Gobert trade an easy target in general.
On top of that, Gobert’s performances were up-and-down. There were some highs, like the season-opener in which Gobert scored 23 points and snagged 16 rebounds against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the production felt forced as teammates broke the flow of the offense to feed him for an awkward post-up. There was the 22-point, 21-rebound game against the Los Angeles Lakers, but even that didn’t leave a great taste in anyones mouth as the team still did not play particularly well or with an abundance of energy. Amidst those were games where Gobert was basically non-existent on offense, and his defensive energy level was not up to the All-NBA standard he has set for himself.
To top if all off, there was a bit of friction as Gobert (rightfully, in my opinion) grew frustrated with a fanbase that seemed to be waiting for any and every opportunity to boo their home team. A fanbase with sky-high expectations was clashing with a team trying to understand how to incorporate their big addition.
Rudy Gobert says he feels the Wolves are starting to play better, but took a step back with some mistakes tonight. He also is asking the fans to support them in their struggles rather than boo pic.twitter.com/2dvgNuTjX9— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) November 22, 2022
Not great, Bob.
What Gobert needed to do was give Timberwolves fans a reminder of exactly what has made him a contender for All-NBA every year. The fanbase needed to be reminded of exactly why Tim Connelly felt it was necessary to trade the mother load for the Frenchman.
In the past few days, Rudy Gobert has done exactly that, looking like Rudy-freaking-Gobert again.
It started with the game-winning rejection of the Indiana Pacer’s Buddy Hield on Wednesday at Target Center and continued with Gobert’s two-way dominance on Friday night in his return to Salt Lake City against the Utah Jazz. There’s still so far to go for this team to reach their lofty preseason expectations, but Gobert looking like Gobert will make those goals look much more attainable than they did a week ago.
Rudy Gobert clutch isolation block pic.twitter.com/phkWl4Dr0x— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) December 8, 2022
While the 16/21/1/3/2 line against Indiana and 22/13 against Utah demonstrated his brilliance, it was the specific, signature moments that have truly endeared Gobert to the fanbase in record time.
While Gobert may have lamented the boos early in the season, the boos were coming due to poor effort from the team. In the same vein, the extra effort and will that Rudy showed in his recovery on Buddy Hield is the type of stuff that earns you “Rudy, Rudy, Rudy” chants on your home floor.
"RUDY, RUDY, RUDY, RUDY, RUDY" chants erupting at Target Center as he makes a massive defensive stop with the swat on Wolf Killer Buddy Hield. What a sequence. He nailed both clutch free throws right before.— John Meyer (@meyerNBA) December 8, 2022
Playing your ass off all night, and then not backing down when a delusional opponent tries to get in your face after the game is how you show us that you’re with us. It couldn’t have been the easiest thing in the world to go home to Utah and wind up playing the villain at the end of the day, but Rudy did just that. We love that.
Rudy Gobert takes the last-second shot, Jazz fans + Malik Beasley have something to say about it pic.twitter.com/pDYRPl6Cw4— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) December 10, 2022
We needed that.
We needed our moment to rally behind Gobert, and truly accept him as one of us.
Timberwolves fans are a passionate bunch. It wasn’t long ago that sticking up for Rudy Gobert in an altercation with Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt would have been as likely as Jimmy Butler getting a standing ovation at Target Center.
Now, Gobert seems to be beginning to get over the “feeling it out” phase of his Timberwolves tenure, and once again playing like the dominant force that he has been for the past decade.
As Rudy shows Minnesota fans exactly what he is capable of with ferocious dunks and game-changing rim deterrence, it becomes easier to also acknowledge the little things he does that aren’t as obvious. Fans are slower to heap praise on setting good screens when it’s accompanied with blowout losses and you’re invisible on offense. All Rudy Gobert needed was just to be himself. Similarly to the way it took a while for fans and D’Angelo Russell to figure each other out, it just took a little bit of time for fans and Gobert to figure each other out.
Now, we’re seeing the real Rudy Gobert, and that’s a player that’s going to be embraced with open arms in Minneapolis. Screen assists will be accounted for, deterred drives to the rim will be recorded, roll-gravity will be applauded, and monster dunks will be celebrated. A real foundation is being laid, one that this team now can truly build on. Here’s to enjoying that ride.