Could we see Rudy Gobert start taking some corner 3s this season?
What a sentence that is.
The 7-foot-1 Gobert is entering his 11th NBA season and has yet to make a 3-pointer in his career. Not only that, but his touch as a shooter is so unrefined that he regularly smokes seemingly easy shots around the rim. Given how far the aesthetics of Gobert’s game are from resembling something of capable jump shooting, the idea of him spotting up for 3-pointers seems crazy. However, is it totally insane to think that there’s a chance that we could see such an idea actualize itself on the court for the Timberwolves this year?
Well, not entirely.
But first, some context as to why this question is being asked in the first place.
The 2023-24 season for the Minnesota Timberwolves is one of, if not the highest-stakes season in franchise history. The Timberwolves are pot-committed to a roster and collection of draft capital with extremely high hopes of making a deep playoff run this season. The organization thinks they have what it takes to make such a run. Now, they need to prove it.
Leading up to last year’s campaign, hopes were very high for the Timberwolves. The transaction made to acquire Gobert last summer had many moving parts that included a large collection of future first-round draft picks, assets that are coveted in today’s trade market. This trade served as the face of a metaphorical page-flip that signaled a new era in Wolves basketball.
Utah is trading Rudy Gobert to Minnesota, sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 1, 2022
The first year of results left much to be desired in the eyes of many. Gobert’s fit alongside the rest of the team was awkward for most of the season, All-NBA center Karl-Anthony Towns missed 52 regular season games with a calf strain, and the team possessed an inexplicable inability to beat lottery-level teams. Coming into the beginning of the season with all-time optimism, fans left that season with a sense of frustration and disappointment not only because the team’s big swing didn’t work out right away, but also because they didn’t even get to see the full strength team for almost the entire season, including the playoffs.
In the minds of the front office and fans alike, the shortcomings of last season can be rationalized by acknowledging a few specific circumstances. Towns missed the majority of the season due to injury. The jelling time required to integrate Gobert with the rest of the team personnel takes serious reps to accomplish. The starting point guard to begin the year, D’Angelo Russell, was traded more than halfway through the season.
As much went wrong last season, the Timberwolves organization and fans have put it behind them for the most part. The 2022-23 season happened and that’s okay. Nearly five months have passed since game five in Denver and it’s time to move on. However, this next season, there will be no excuses.
The Minnesota Timberwolves need to prove it in 2023-24. They need to prove that this philosophy of two bigs can produce winning basketball. They need to prove that the money they are paying Towns is worth it long-term. They need to prove they can beat the bad teams. They need to prove that they really are the Western Conference Finals caliber team they hope to be this season.
That being said, the Wolves cannot afford to run it back the same way they did last season and expect a different result. It’s going to be largely up to the creativity of the front office and Head Coach Chris Finch to find the winning formula with this roster. It would be untruthful to say that the Wolves roster is a perfect fit across the board. It’s going to take some individual leaps, collective sacrifices, and outside-the-box thinking to find how this Minnesota Timberwolves team plays best.
That’s where Gobert comes in.
Gobert has by far the most unique skillset on the team offensively. For years now, Gobert has been one of the premier rollers and lob-catchers in the association. On Gobert’s prior team, the Utah Jazz, Gobert spread pick-and-rolls were some of the most effective plays in the league. As effective as Gobert’s lob-catching can be, it can be a rather limited offensive option as it can only work in tandem with another teammate’s effort to find Gobert on the roll and throw him the lob.
Many of the Timberwolves players last season lacked the confidence needed to be persistent on that search for Gobert on the roll. Whether that be because of the lack of seasoned lob-throwers on the team for most of the season, or the often a nagging back injury that hindered Gobert’s ability to catch, the lob wasn’t always in option for Gobert last season; and it shouldn’t necessarily be, either.
For every offensive play ending with a lob to Gobert, that’s an opportunity gone for Edwards, Towns, or Jaden McDaniels to create scoring for themselves. The reason that it will be so necessary for the Wolves to find other ways to use Gobert on offense is that the pressure of finding Rudy for the easy dunk was often distracting and felt unnatural at times. It shouldn’t be a mandate for the other players to be looking for the lob each time down the court. The other guys on the court are going to need to play their game and it will be up to Rudy to learn how to space out and allow them to do that. Especially come playoff time, the offense is going to need to find at least some other way to involve Gobert on offense.
Anyone who’s watched Gobert play basketball a good amount knows that task is much easier said than done. Outside of lobs, put-backs, and the occasional drop step, Gobert doesn’t have much in his bag offensively. However, there is some reason to believe that Gobert might be able to provide a different fold to the Timberwolves offense.
There’s an okay-to-decent chance that Gobert takes a few catch & shoot 3-pointers next season. It seems to be a pretty far out there concept, but it’s not totally unreasonable.
Gobert has not hidden the fact that he’s been working on his long-range shooting this summer. During a Team France practice for the FIBA tournament this summer, a clip went viral of Gobert draining four straight shots from beyond the arc. Now, making four straight triples isn’t anything the average NBA players would have too much trouble doing, but the fact that Gobert’s form mechanics and balance looked as good as it did in the clip is pretty impressive considering his shooting background.
The Saint-Quentin, France native’s shooting mechanics aren’t exactly textbook, but he executes each jumper in one fluid motion. It doesn’t look as awkward or hitchy as one might expect. There’s a confident push and release that takes place and what really stands out is the fact that Gobert’s form looks the same each time he shoots. A huge part of being a capable shooter is being able to repeat the shooting form each time. From what’s been seen, Gobert has clearly developed a form that can be repeated.
Gobert’s 3-point shot isn’t all for show either. On August 2 in an exhibition game against Montenegro, Rudy let one fly. An absolute beauty from the top of the key. The result: nothing but net.
Along with an interesting quote from Gobert postgame, Timberwolves fans were left with many thoughts running through their minds. Is it really possible that Rudy Gobert of all players has turned into a shooter overnight? It would obviously be a little fast to label Gobert as a ‘shooter’, but there are some interesting possibilities if this jumper of his turns out to be even semi-real.
Edwards certainly hopes it doesn’t happen, unlike some Wolves fans.
But if Gobert’s 3-point jump shot is real enough to rationalize spotting him up in one of the corners for possessions at a time, that’s where things get life-changing for the Wolves. Being able to park Gobert in the corner rather than along the baseline dunker spots could be one of the keys to fixing the Timberwolves spacing and offensive stagnation. Giving Edwards and Towns clear lanes to drive to the rim through would do so much for their scoring productivity. Even if Gobert was purely a semi-believable decoy from deep it completely changes the Timberwolves’ offensive placements.
The Wolves roster has had to adapt a lot to accommodate for Gobert’s unique skillsets. Now, it might be time for Rudy to adapt more to the rest of the team. Edwards’ potential for superstardom has become to glaringly obvious to ignore, Towns is making super max money and should command at least 17-20 shots, and even McDaniels is going to require an apt amount of touches.
The screens and lobs won’t — nor should they — vanish. That’s always going to need to be an important option in the offense. Part of Edwards’ development is going to come by understanding better how to play with a rolling big and attack drop coverage, particularly in the mid-range. Part of that is knowing when and how to throw Gobert a lob vs when to get to his left or toss up a floater. A large reason for the trade acquiring Mike Conley from Utah was being able to unlock Gobert in the pick-and-roll.
When utilized correctly, Gobert can be a very impactful offensive player on the short roll. However, when it comes to this current Timberwolves team, there will need to be more creativity with how Gobert gets involved. One of the ways they could try that might be having him take a few catch & shoot 3-pointers every so often.
Is it reasonable to expect a Brook Lopez akin career transformation for Gobert? Not at all; but if his jump shot from deep happens to be just real enough to warrant spotting him up for just a few possessions at a time, it gives the Timberwolves offense a whole new look that might unlock a lot of good things that go beyond Gobert.
As weird as it is, there is a sliver of possibility that this could all play out on the court for the Wolves in 2023-24. The Minnesota Timberwolves have a ton of pressure on them heading into this season. They need to win. No excuses, just win. However, in order to do so, they might have to get a little weird.