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Evaluating the Impact of the Mike Conley/Rudy Gobert Pick-and-Roll Game

The Wolves’ veterans have been instrumental to the team’s historic start. Their pick-and-roll dynamic remains excellent, and arguably the most efficient aspect of the Minnesota offense.

Minnesota Timberwolves v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

When the Minnesota Timberwolves traded for the three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert in the summer of 2022, the expectation was not only that he would bring his all-world defensive skills, but also provide benefits on the offensive end with screen-setting and lob dunk finishing.

The potential pick-and-roll combination of Gobert and D’Angelo Russell was seen as an aspect of the trade that would unlock Russell’s game and provide value for both D’Lo and the Wolves offense as a whole.

As the 2022-23 season went on, it became clear that Russell and Gobert were not on the same page and that a move needed to be made. At the 2023 trade deadline, the Wolves traded Russell for Mike Conley, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and three second-round picks.

That trade has proved invaluable for the Wolves as Conley has found that pick-and-roll connection that the Wolves hoped would emerge when they traded for Gobert. Conley and Gobert have picked up where they left off from their three seasons together with the Utah Jazz and have been a stellar pick-and-roll duo for the Timberwolves.


Creating Offense for One Another

The most simple way the Conley-Gobert pick-and-rolls have generated offense for the Wolves is by opening up easy shots for Mike Conley. Here, Rudy’s screen puts Fred VanVleet a step behind allowing Conley to blow right by him. With Alperen Şengün late to rotate over, that leads to an easy layup.

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Many have come to call plays like this “screen assists” for Gobert where he may not get credited with anything in the boxscore, his excellent screen setting was the primary reason that his team scored on that possession.

Here is another example of that where Conley is able to get an open shot from deep coming off a Gobert screen.

Conley has been fantastic all year shooting 3-pointers coming off of a Gobert screen, hitting them at a nearly 39% clip.

The 36-year-old floor general has a great sense of when the defense has left him open, as seen above, or when the defense has over-committed to him and left another player open. Below, both LeBron James and Jarred Vanderbilt go to guard Conley, which leaves Gobert wide open under the rim.

Conley has been great at finding Gobert rolling to the rim whenever he is open. And when former Ohio State star hits the Frenchman on the roll, it only opens things up for the other three playing around them, making the pick-and-roll battery even tougher for opposing defenses to stop.

Here is a play where both Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns set screens for Conley, which adds an element to the play. Zion Williamson is unable to leave KAT popping out for a 3-pointer, so when CJ McCollum is behind the play after being unable to navigate both screens, that leaves just Jonas Valančiūnas to guard both Conley and Gobert.

Conley can make the easy lob for Gobert to throw down, which has become a common occurrence this season. The combination of Conley and Gobert in the pick-and-roll has been a fantastic element in a Wolves offense that sometimes struggles to score in the half-court.


Opening up Shots for Others

The Conley/Gobert two-man game not only opens up scoring changes for themselves but creates great looks for other players on the court as well. Often, other teams will need to utilize a third defender to help out on the primary action, which opens up someone else on the play.

Below is a perfect example where Conley and Gobert run an empty-corner pick-and-roll, Harrison Barnes rotates over to stop the ball, and that leaves Jaden McDaniels wide open.

Of note at the end of the play, Trey Lyles should have rotated to guard McDaniels, but even if he did, the Wolves probably still may have gotten an open shot. Kyle Anderson was coming down to set a screen on Keegan Murray, which would have opened up Anthony Edwards. That is an aspect of the Wolves offense to watch as they look to look to mitigate Slo-Mo’s lack of outside shooting.

An aspect of Gobert’s game that has improved is his short-roll passing. When the defense collapses on him after catching the ball in the middle of the floor, he has more often than before, been able to find shooters on the perimeter.

Gobert does a good job stopping short of committing a charge and passing out for a wide-open three for Naz Reid. Having a big that can make this type of pass can be invaluable for an offense as it makes it much more difficult for defenses to blitz the ball handler or collapse in on the paint.


Anthony Edwards and Rudy Gobert

Given that Conley is only under contract through the end of this season, is 36 and at some point will see a drop-off in production, the Timberwolves will need to find another consistent pick-and-roll partner for Gobert. That player could and probably should be the Wolves 22-year-old superstar Anthony Edwards.

The main way Edwards can utilize Gobert’s screening ability is to free up lanes to the rim. Below, the Gobert gives Edwards space from Luguentz Dort, allowing him to attack downhill at Chet Holmgren.

An area of improvement this season for Ant has been able to find 3-point shooters coming out of a pick-and-roll. Here, Christian Wood rotates over to stop Gobert’s roll to the rim and without skipping a beat, Edwards throws the skip pass to Reid in the corner.

This is just not a play Edwards would have made nearly as often a season or two ago. He may have tried to make the pass to Gobert or split the double team, but making this kind of pass gives great optimism for Ant to become a top-tier pick-and-roll playmaker.

Here is another very similar play where Ant is met with two defenders coming off the screen. He recognizes Luke Kennard picks up Gobert rolling to the rim and he immediately whips a pass to an open McDaniels in the corner.

It is especially encouraging to see Ant makes plays like that late in a somewhat close game. In the playoffs when games slow down and teams get tougher, the Wolves are going to need Ant to make these types of plays over and over again.

The main negative with Ant’s current pick-and-roll game with Gobert is he needs to put more trust in Rudy Gobert rolling to the rim. Often, Ant seems reluctant to hit Gobert right away further out from the rim, which has led to less than ideal outcomes for the Wolves offense.

In the above play, if Edwards hits Rudy on the short roll, Gobert would have had an open lane to the rim to attack the smaller Tyler Herro or pass out to an open shooter. Instead, tried to attack multiple defenders at once, leading to a Jimmy Butler steal.

If Edwards wants to take the next step with his passing, he needs to find more trust in Gobert to make the right play if he gets the ball. While Gobert has had his fair share of turnovers, getting him the ball against a smaller defender is more optimal than going nearly 5 on 1.

Edwards has also shown increased chemistry with Gobert in their second year together. Ant has more often been able to find Rudy for lobs at the rim as Edwards gets used to finding him in the paint.

The Portland Trail Blazers didn’t put up much resistance in their recent game against the Wolves, but it was still good to see Edwards find Gobert when opposing defenses lose track of Gobert. Ant continued that on Thursday against Memphis, dishing three assists to his All-Star big man.

When the Wolves reach the NBA Playoffs, and games start to get played more and more in the half-court, these are the types of plays the Wolves will need to see from Edwards as defenses load up defensively to stop him from scoring.