There’s been a debate raging on for years over whether or not Karl-Anthony Towns is best suited next to a true center or real stretch forward.
I’ve been on both sides of the argument, wavering back and forth on the ideal way to maximize KAT. But as the NBA has spent the past decade innovating small-ball, the Wolves have decided to reject the norm. They’ve officially decided to go big.
Forgive me for thinking it’s the perfect move because the Wolves really have tested everything over the years. They’ve tried all sorts of player types next to Towns—from Kevin Garnett to Gorgui Dieng to Taj Gibson to Robert Covington to Dario Saric, and others in between.
Now they’re going all-in on one of the decade's premier centers in Rudy Gobert, a 30-year-old defensive juggernaut who is uniquely different, disrespected exactly as KAT has been, and seriously special, in a copycat league that isn’t copying the big approach and probably won’t be prepared for the Wolves’ next punch.
“Me and KAT have been going at it for many years,” Gobert said during his introductory press conference. “We’re very unique and different players.”
Brand new Wolves POBO Tim Connelly quickly made his choice in that long-standing debate after signing a five-year, $40 million contract to run the Wolves as one of the highest-paid executives in the NBA. In trading for Gobert, he’s leaving no stone unturned. They now have two top 5 win-shares players in the entire league, both dominating at the center position.
Win Shares (estimate of the number of wins contributes by a player)
Nikola Jokić DEN 15.22.
Giannis Antetokounmpo MIL 12.93
Joel Embiid PHI 12.04
Rudy Gobert UTA 11.75
Karl-Anthony Towns MIN 10.36
Trae Young ATL 10.07
Robert Williams BOS 9.98
Jayson Tatum BOS 9.69
Chris Paul PHO 9.410
Jimmy Butler MIA 9.2
“The league hasn’t gotten smaller and smaller and smaller. You go small when your bigs aren’t better than the other bigs and I feel pretty confident our bigs are going to be pretty good this year,” says Connelly.
There’s also the fact that Towns needed Gobert exactly as much as Gobert needed Towns. The Wolves are going BIG, and their gamble might end up being the perfect pairing they’ve been searching for to elevate their much improved 13th-rated defense (111.7 points per 100 possessions) to the top 5.
“Rudy is a defensive microcosm unto himself,” says head coach Chris Finch. As usual, Finchy ain’t wrong. The Utah Jazz have dominated defensively during Gobert’s career. The numbers are free to look at.
FIVE DAYS AFTER the Wolves shocked the NBA world with a blockbuster trade to bring Gobert to Minneapolis, an introspective Gobert discussed his thought process once the framework of a potential deal was first pitched by his agent, Bouna Ndiaye.
“That definitely wasn’t one of the teams at first that we knew was really interested,” Gobert admitted. The league’s best defensive center and three-time defensive player of the year needed a day or two to think things over after nine seasons in Utah.
“I told [Bouna] I needed one or two days to think about it.”
Who could blame him for wanting a little time to consider such a bold move? Rudy ... in Minnesota? WITH TOWNS? In this basketball economy?
Gobert thought it was for the best.
“After one day, I came back to him and told him that it was probably the best, the most exciting situation in terms of basketball for me. Then the trade happened. It’s exciting. I’m excited to work in the community. I’m excited because this city has some great fans. I’ve seen them talk to me on Twitter. I’m excited to be here with some very talented young players. Obviously, KAT is a tremendous player. I can’t even imagine all the things we’re going to be able to do on the floor and all the great things I’m going to do in the community to make Minnesota a great place. So thank you, guys. I’m really excited.”
Karl-Anthony Towns 3PAr, by season:— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) July 1, 2022
- 2018-19: 27.0%
- 2019-20: 44.5%
- 2020-21: 36.0%
- 2021-22: 30.1%
Gobert will collapse the defense as a rim-runner, creating opportunities for kick-outs to the Wolves’ generational shooter.
I expect KAT’s 3PAr to skyrocket alongside Gobert. pic.twitter.com/hWl6CUhNji
Two All-Star centers have suddenly been asked to thrive together, from foes to friends, in an era that’s zigged and dismissed the zag of going big because BIG could never really truly compete with the gold standard of those damn Warriors!
“We don’t think it’s an awkward fit at all,” said Finch. “We think that he fits perfectly inside of what we already do. We feel he can probably do some things that he maybe hasn’t been asked to do before. What we love is the dynamic between him and KAT will now force teams to choose a little bit more about how they want to guard one or the other, and then we’re going to have to figure out how we exploit that, and that’s the fun part. That’s what the rest of the summer is for our staff.”
There’s no other bigger story across the league than the ambitious and expensive acquisition of Gobert in Minnesota. One of the most significant questions in the NBA will become: Can this new partnership alongside another franchise cornerstone center in Towns—one of Gobert’s most fierce competitors, along with their unified rivalries with the league’s two other superstar 5s in Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid—actually work out in a game infatuated with pace, space, and the small-ball approach that’s seen the death of most Twin Tower lineups? Connelly and the front office sold the farm betting it will.
As the days and months pass in the aftermath of this massive move, the Wolves’ pivot to go big seems more and more perfectly timed. Sure, the trade is unconventional but also seems exactly right for the times; they can’t small-ball as the elite teams can. In dissecting their fit together, Gobert and Towns seem perfect for each other. Where each struggle, the other thrives. Screen setting, rim protection, rim rolling, popping for 3s, anchoring a defense with drop coverage, switching on the perimeter, hard hedges, scoring, defending, etc. It’s salt and pepper. Gobert can carry any NBA defense to a top ten rating in his sleep; KAT can do the same offensively. That’s a recipe for 50+ wins and tons of success for many years to come. Perfect is a strong word, but lord it seems perfect.
“We’re going to be very unique,” Gobert says.
“I don’t think there’s going to be another team that is going to be able to bring to the table what we’re gonna bring to the table. But my goal is really to make Karl a better player on both ends and make his life easier and allow him to be even better than he already is. And I think his presence is gonna do the same for me. And the same with those young guys. I mean, Anthony Edwards has been growing and improving year after year. He’s one of the most exciting young players in this league. So, I’m really excited to play alongside him and D’Angelo Russell, and McDaniels, that’s a tremendous defender. So it’s just a very unique core of young guys and a really good coach that complains about my screens all the time. So now we’re on the same side, so I’m excited.”
When the Wolves drafted shot-blocking phenom, Walker Kessler, out of Auburn with the 22nd pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, the Wolves seemed like they were addressing their issues. Kessler appeared to take care of the team’s desire, and obvious need, for a defensive-focused, rim-protecting center they could deploy next to Towns in future playoff matchups against teams like the Memphis Grizzlies. Their complete non-answer for Brandon Clarke’s offensive rebounding in their first-round series loss shined a spotlight on a long unanswered need for defensive rebounding and legitimate rim protection.
Turns out Kessler was a chess piece. Connelly, Finch, Sachin Gupta, and the entire Wolves front office said ‘Nah. That’s not good enough. Let’s trade for the best in the business. We don’t have to wait on Gobert. He’s built and wired to fix these issues and maximize Karl immediately.
“Actually, that was probably the best, most exciting challenge for me, to pair with a guy like KAT and the whole organization like the Timberwolves that really wants to win and is willing to do whatever it takes to win,” said Gobert. “I couldn’t hope for a better situation, a more exciting situation. It just happened. I’m really, really excited to be here.”
Now, the Wolves have 48 minutes of All-NBA production at the 5. They will never be outproduced there. There are maybe 15-20 minutes KAT and Rudy won’t play together on the court and both of them have great partners at the 4 in those minutes apart in Kyle Anderson (a great defensive-oriented, sharp passing all-around game) and Taurean Prince (a very smart and stretchy forward who hits treys and takes charges).
“It’s not often you get a player of Rudy’s caliber, and more importantly, a person of Rudy’s caliber,” said POBO Tim Connelly. “This industry’s about relationships and about knowing what you’re going to get. This guy is about as good as it gets as a professional. His work ethic is second to none, and his desire to win is elite. To add him to an already strong young core is a special day.”
Connelly said it felt like more of a dream than reality.
Chris Finch also thanked Gobert during his introduction. He was quietly thrilled. “I think he’s the perfect fit at the perfect time for our organization,” said Finch.
He continued: “It’s not often you add somebody who brings such a level of professionalism and maturity and experience alongside a young core, who fits seamlessly into what we need and what we need most. I know the excitement is building among the teammates in the group chat. The relationship between Karl and Anthony and D-Lo and those guys are only going to get stronger and stronger. It’s going to be fun to watch, fun to nurture. We needed to do something. We felt that last year we laid a great foundation. We didn’t want to go backward from it. You have a guy who comes in here able to impact both ends of the floor and fits seamlessly alongside what we already have and brings maturity and professionalism in approach and an experience and worldliness that a young team really needs. It’s something that I’m very excited to start to see grow and grow.”
That’s very well put, Finchy.
The excitement over Gobert’s arrival is truly palpable. The Twin City Towers duo is different and unique and poised to rattle the entire league. Karl and Rudy’s greatness blended together, hated as one, should be a perfect match. They’re Wolves’ teammates now, set to be loved by us and loathed by many. And that’s to say nothing about D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, or the rest of the talented core rotation.
“The goal is to win a championship and I came here for that,” says Gobert. “I didn’t come here just to be a good team. I came to try and take this team to the finals and accomplish that.”
That’s the goal.
Maybe this partnership will change the whole league.