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Can the Timberwolves Unlock More of Rudy Gobert’s Passing?

The Wolves reportedly want to try to expand Gobert’s offensive responsibilities

Poland v France: Semi-Final Round - FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Throughout the summer, there were rumblings about the way the Minnesota Timberwolves might try to expand Rudy Gobert’s limited offensive arsenal. Gobert is not a demonstrative complainer, but it also was not exactly a secret that he would’ve liked the freedom to have the ball more often than he did in Utah. Rudy didn’t demand touches, but any Big who exerts as much effort as the Frenchman does on defense will want to see the ball a bit on offense.

My biggest concern with this was that it could lead to throwing the ball into Gobert in post-up situations. After Media Day, it sounds much more likely that this will come more often through using Gobert as a passing hub on the short-roll.

Given how he looked playing this role at Eurobasket this summer, that is a win, considering the alternative (more post-ups). Still, is this the best way to use offensive possessions? I’m skeptical, but there is reason for some optimism as well as trying to incorporate this as a part of the offense.

Normally when a max-level player is moved to a new team, there are concessions made to appease the incoming player. Again, I don’t think taking possessions away from D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, or Karl-Anthony Towns so that Rudy Gobert can facilitate is a likely to lead to much immediate success, but it may be a worthwhile concession to keep the big man happy, as well as pay off in the long run.

After accepting that this is something that is going to happen, next up is thinking about if, and how, this could work for Minnesota’s offense. Fortunately, Minnesota does have surrounding talent to potentially make Rudy playmaking from the nail area a profitable endeavor.

For one, even if the passing vision never comes around for Gobert from that part of the floor, he is so big that he’s at most a dribble away from a dunk once he catches a pass. At the absolute worst, the Wolves will probably get a few dunks out of this, which is all it will really take for this to breakeven.

If the passing does come around, though, it could give Minnesota yet another weapon in their offensive arsenal. In the starting unit, Gobert will be flanked by Russell, Edwards, Towns, and Jaden McDaniels, all of whom figure to earn some defensive attention. When you consider that Gobert will normally be catching the ball in a four-on-three situation, there will be plays to be made.

McDaniels has shown he can be a good cutter, so while this will not be Draymond Green to Andre Iguoudala, there is opportunity here for Gobert to use his gravity moving towards the rim to draw an extra defender away from a cutter. The dump-off pass to a cutter or to the dunker spot will be the first read for Gobert to get the hang of.

Where this offense can really cook with gas is by hitting skips to the opposite corner. Being able to take a dribble, draw a defender, and make the aforementioned dump-off pass is a necessary progression for Rudy, but hitting the opposite corner will get the defense completely scrambled. If Gobert is already in an advantageous situation when he catches the ball, and then is able to swing it to, say, Towns or Edwards in the corner, now the Wolves have their best drivers attacking a defense that’s already in rotation. That’s how they’re going to end up not only with a litany of uncontested layups and dunks, but with wide-open threes off of kick-out passes as well.

If Gobert is ever able to do that, the Wolves will have an offense that will be able to bend defenses from all over the floor.

While I still remain skeptical, I think this wrinkle is potentially more important as it pertains to their postseason success with this group than anything else.

The biggest problem for Gobert in Utah was his inability to punish a switch offensively in the playoffs. I think we’ve seen enough to know that posting Gobert up against smaller players is not a ticket to an efficient offense. Opposing teams know this, so they will absolutely try to guard this team in the playoffs by switching any ball-screen involving Gobert. Offense isn’t a simple black-and-white equation, but in general the easiest way to beat a switch is by slipping the screen.

Utah Jazz v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

In the past, this hasn’t really been an option for Gobert’s teams for a few reasons. The biggest reason was that his co-star teammates did not seem to trust him. Whether justified or not, his team didn’t trust that he would make the right play once he caught the ball.

That’s why it will be important for Minnesota to test this out during the regular season. It will not be pretty every time. In fact, early on it will probably be really ugly. But this is a team that wants to play deep into the postseason. To do so, they need to think ahead to what their kryptonite can be in the playoffs, and this is certainly one of them. Building up Gobert’s confidence with the ball in his hands off of the short-roll or on slips, as well as the confidence of Gobert’s teammates in him, will be crucial to neutralizing the defense they’ll see in the playoffs.

So, will this work? Is it all going to be worth it? Honestly, it is impossible to say until we see it in action. While I am skeptical this specific move can work out as well in the NBA as it did in FIBA, I can’t say that it isn’t worth exploring. This is a team that, for once, has aspirations beyond not embarrassing themselves. To meet their sky-high expectations, they have to be willing to think outside the box, and try something new even if it might fail. That’s exactly what they’ll be doing when they try to build up Rudy Gobert’s playmaking.