Timberwolves big man now at peace with relentless criticism

Phoenix Suns v Minnesota Timberwolves - Game One
Phoenix Suns v Minnesota Timberwolves - Game One / Patrick McDermott/GettyImages

The Minnesota Timberwolves are one of the NBA's best stories this season. After years of mediocracy, Minnesota won 56 games—second-most in team history—and earned a third seed in the historically difficult Western Conference.

Numerous players, coaches, and those in the front office were lauded for their efforts. Timberwolves' rising star Anthony Edwards has been praised all season long. Edwards made his second consecutive All-Star appearance and will likely end up on an All-NBA team.

Reserve big man Naz Reid has ascended to cult-favorite levels amongst NBA fans. The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 13.5 points off the bench for Minnesota and was recently named a Sixth Man of the Year finalist.

The man who shaped the Wolves into a contending squad, Chris Finch, led Minnesota to 56 wins and received much praise while doing so as he was named a finalist for the NBA's Coach of the Year award.

Finally, Wolves big man Rudy Gobert was named a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year…once again. Gobert has already won the award on three separate occasions and will likely bring home the hardware a fourth time—tying the NBA record.

Despite the momentous achievement, Gobert's accolades are hardly praised. NBA players, media personalities, and even Hall-of-Famers have been quite critical of the French big man's game. Gobert was even voted as the overrated player in the league.

Although he was once rattled by the strenuous criticism, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year is no longer triggered by his doubters. In a story by ESPN's Tim MacMahon, Gobert revealed he was once caught up in the antics across the league, but has since come to terms with others devaluing his style of play.

The former Utah Jazz standout acknowledged that his game isn't the most flashy, thus leading to a lack of respect from his peers. He alludes to his vast success as a way for players to become irked by his "unique" playstyle.

Although Gobert has never averaged more than 16 points per game, demonstrated an appealing post-game, or shown much ability to knock down a jumper outside of 10 feet, he's an absolute game-wrecker on the defensive end.

Since Gobert assumed a starting role in the 2015-16 season, his team's lowest rank when it comes to defensive rating is 15th. Other than that lone season, his squads have ranked 10th or better. This season, Gobert has anchored the best defense in all of basketball—owning a stellar defensive rating of 108.4.

While the Frenchman has been a fantastic player on the court for quite some time, it's encouraging to see the improvements he's made off the court. His sudden ascension to stardom yielded numerous bumps along the way.

In 2019, Gobert anticipated making his first All-Star appearance—just a season after winning Defensive Player of the Year. However, the young Gobert was snubbed and teared up during an emotional interview. The Wolves big man was later mocked by a few members of the Golden State Warriors.

While the Golden State-Gobert drama had just begun, the star center's drama on his team in Utah began to ensue in 2020. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gobert famously touched every microphone after a press conference and subsequently tested positive for the virus days later.

The incident strained his relationship with co-star Donovan Mitchell and the entire Jazz organization. In 2022, Gobert was dealt to Minnesota as Utah began a full-fledged rebuild. Results weren't initially impressive, but a 56-win 2023-24 season proved the trade to be worthwhile.

Despite the immense success, the season didn't go without rough patches for Gobert. In November, the Golden State-Gobert tension resumed. Warriors forward Draymond Green—who had previously criticized Gobert—put the big man in a headlock as he attempted to break up a scuffle between Jaden McDaniels and Klay Thompson.

Green was subsequently suspended and both stars had much to say about one another after the incident. Months passed before the next Gobert incident. In a battle between the Wolves and Cleveland Cavaliers in early March, the 7-footer received a technical foul and was later fined after flashing money signs to the referees insinuating a call was made on behalf of a bet.

Since Gobert's string of immature actions, he's seemingly reflected upon his rocky path to stardom. After years of listening to the outside noise and countless doubters, he's learned to drown it all out.