Are the Minnesota Timberwolves actually better without Rudy Gobert?

Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports /

The Minnesota Timberwolves are still struggling to put all their pieces together this season. Despite possessing a roster with significant talent, they are failing to win games consistently. After Wednesday night’s loss to the Mavericks, they fell back to .500 with a 16-16 record.

A big reason the Wolves have been such an enigma is injuries. With so many key players missing time, it has led to inconsistency and a lack of opportunity for chemistry to continue building between important players.

But what it has also done is accentuate what works and what does not within Minnesota’s system. We have seen Anthony Edwards be the driving force behind the Timberwolves’ offense all season long, and his continued development is encouraging. However, there are certain situations he has thrived in more than others.

No matter how you look at things, it is clear that the Timberwolves are Anthony Edwards’ team going forward. After the franchise’s acquisition of Rudy Gobert in the offseason, there were immediate and legitimate questions about how Edwards would fit on the floor with Rudy, and now, there are questions about whether the team is actually better with Gobert.

Could the Timberwolves really be better without Rudy Gobert?

Edwards’ postgame comments from several weeks ago about how he had never played with a rim-rolling big, “even in AAU,” were certainly not the greatest sign early on. We saw disturbing evidence of this comment throughout the early part of the season, where Edwards passed the ball to Gobert at an astonishingly low rate. In mid-November, Ant had found Rudy just four times in 125 pick-and-roll scenarios.

Edwards also seemed to find more of a groove offensively when Gobert was sidelined with an ankle injury for several games. Without the French big man on the floor, Ant appeared to have more room to operate, and he put up his best individual performance of the season against the Bulls without Gobert in the lineup.

While Gobert himself has been far from awful for the Timberwolves this season, he has still had his issues. Unfortunately, he is not the type of player that you can plug and place into any lineup seamlessly. While Chris Finch has tinkered with the best players to put around the French star to maximize his effectiveness, Gobert has struggled for stretches in the interim. This has been the first season since his rookie year where he is averaging less than two blocks per game.

So this begs the question: are the Timberwolves actually better without Rudy Gobert? While it may seem like a ludicrous question when considering the incredible individual talent of Gobert, it is not impossible. However, Edwards’ success and Gobert’s shortcomings are still not enough evidence to definitively say this is the case.

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ offense has thrived with one big on the floor

To make a true determination on this matter, we should look at which lineups have been most successful for Minnesota, and which ones have slowed them down most. When looking at every five-man lineup the Timberwolves have used this season, arrangements featuring Anthony Edwards and one big man have produced varying results.

When Edwards has played in a lineup with Naz Reid as his only big, the Timberwolves have been otherworldly on both ends of the floor, registering a 120.2 offensive rating and a 107.7 defensive rating, both of which rank in the 91st or higher percentile across the entire NBA.

With Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns playing together, Minnesota has registered an even higher offensive rating while seeing their defensive rating go through the floor at 123.9. Ant and KAT are statistically one of the worst defensive pairings in the entire league.

In lineups where Rudy Gobert served as Edwards’ only big man, the Timberwolves had a much improved defensive mark, but their offense suffered, with just a 113.1 rating. Disappointingly, this supports the notion that Edwards has a more difficult time getting his game off with Gobert on the floor with him.

But in general, Minnesota has found success when playing a singular big next to Anthony Edwards. In a league full of small lineups and wing-dominated rotations, this does not reflect positively on the Timberwolves’ acquisition of Rudy Gobert. A Karl-Anthony Towns/Rudy Gobert frontcourt can still achieve great things. But Minnesota’s on-court product must make a significant improvement for them to prove they are truly better with Rudy Gobert.

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