He played just 17 minutes, but Rudy Gobert’s unofficial Timberwolves debut in Thursday’s preseason victory over the Lakers in Las Vegas showed the numerous ways in which the center will change life for Minnesota.
Defensively, the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year controlled the paint in all the ways Minnesota assumed he would. The Lakers shot just 47 percent in the paint — for reference, opponents hit 57 percent of shots in the paint last season against the Wolves — and, when Gobert was in the game, Los Angeles largely steered clear of the interior, instead opting for lower-percentage mid-range looks.
So while he didn’t block a shot — he did have two steals — Gobert’s mere presence was a deterrent to those considering attacking the paint..
He controlled the glass, grabbing 12 rebounds, including two on the offensive end. One of those was a thunderous slam putback on a D’Angelo Russell missed shot that served as a de facto lob off the rim. While he only scored five points, Gobert demonstrated the easy offense he can generate.
Another instance of that came in the second quarter, when reserve guard Jordan McLaughlin executed a pick and roll with Gobert in which the duo flipped the screen at the last moment, McLaughlin drew two defenders as he drove into the paint and the guard found Gobert diving to the rim for an easy catch and finish.
Gobert also finished with three actual assists and a number of screen assists. His usage in the screen game appeared to be the base of much of what Minnesota wanted to do on the offensive end.
“He’s doing things that you cannot see on the stats. His rim run and dunker spacing and seals open up a lot of drives, open up the guards to get to the rim. HIs rolls pull people in. Two or three guys try to hit him on the roll, open up corner 3 shots,” Wolves assistant coach Pablo Prigioni said last week. “So a lot of things that you won’t see in the stats, right? How many times he rolls, that’s not on the stats. But he creates open shots for others. His screening in the pick-and-roll get guys open all the time. That’s not on the stats, either. He’s having a huge impact on both ends of the floor.”
Gobert’s impact was both subtle and obvious, which has been true throughout his career. Minnesota out-scored the Lakers by seven points when the center was on the floor. In those minutes, The Timberwolves simply seemed to be in control, because Gobert had such an impact on the way both teams played.
Minnesota hopes that’s often the case when the team tips off in the regular season later this month.