While critics of the trade called the move a massive overpay, it is undeniable that Rudy Gobert can elevate any defense he plays for. That said, much of the shortcomings of Gobert’s teams in Utah came from their inability to defend on the perimeter, with players overly-reliant on Gobert to clean up their mistakes.
Chris Finch cannot let that be the be the case in Minnesota.
Those who praised the Gobert trade have correctly pointed out that Minnesota didn’t give up any of their ‘core’ players, but an overlooked aspect of the trade is that the Wolves gave up two of their three best perimeter defenders — Jarred Vanderbilt and Patrick Beverley.
Part of the overall improvement of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ defense last year was the ability to throw different looks at opposing teams’ stars. Finch could put any combination of Jaden McDaniels, Patrick Beverley, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Josh Okogie on opposing guards and wings and have confidence in the team’s ability to slow them down on a regular basis.
Now, with Beverley, Vanderbilt, and Okogie gone, 21-year-old McDaniels is left as the team’s best proven perimeter defender from last year’s team.
The addition of Kyle Anderson should prove to be a huge boost to the team’s perimeter defense, but beyond McDaniels and Anderson, there should be question marks about this team’s ability to defend on the perimeter.
It will be imperative that players like Taurean Prince, Anthony Edwards, and Jordan McLaughlin step up their defense on the perimeter this season. All three of these players have shown the ability to defend at times, but it will be important for them to be consistently stingy on defense if this team is to fully unlock the potential of a Rudy Gobert-led defense. The Wolves cannot have turnstile defenders on the perimeter expecting Gobert to fix their mistakes.
Karl-Anthony Towns will also bear some of the burden of playing perimeter defense when playing the four this season, so it really will be a full-team effort to ensure that the defensive scheme isn’t wholly reliant on Rudy Gobert.
The additions of Wendell Moore Jr. and Josh Minott could also be potential boosts to the Wolves’ defense, as both showed signs of defensive skillsets in Summer League.
If the Wolves are unable to sustain a solid perimeter defense, the defensive threat of Rudy Gobert becomes significantly alleviated for opponents. Yes, the addition of Gobert is a massive boost to the Wolves’ interior defense, but Chris Finch needs to make sure Gobert isn’t the only one carrying the load on defense. That approach didn’t work in Utah, and with the losses of Jarred Vanderbilt and Patrick Beverley, it certainly won’t work in Minnesota.