Timberwolves think big with Towns-Gobert tandem
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — After reacquainting themselves with the playoffs last season, the Minnesota Timberwolves ramped up the rare energy around them by acquiring three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year award winner Rudy Gobert in a blockbuster trade.
His new frontcourt partner, Karl-Anthony Towns, sure didn’t see the deal coming.
“That’s a wild turn of events, being competitors like that against each other and now we’re teammates. That wasn’t on my bingo card this summer,” Towns said. “I’m just real happy that we get to make each other better.”
In an age when most of the league has gone small, the Timberwolves have truly gone big.
Not only did they send four players and five first-round draft picks to the Jazz to land the 7-foot-1 Frenchman, they took the bold step of building a lineup around two natural centers — albeit with distinctively different skill sets.
“He’s a generational talent on defense, and I think I’m a generational talent on offense. The way that we can complement each other on both sides of the court is going to be amazing,” said Towns, whose hyperbolic style has become one of his most enduring traits. “I think it’s really exciting for fans. I think it’s very exciting for the league. People talk about a two big-man tandem hasn’t been able to work, especially in today’s NBA. Intend to change that mindset for people.”
When the Timberwolves start the season at home Oct. 19 against Oklahoma City, Gobert will be patrolling the paint in the more traditional post role. Towns will move to the power forward spot, where his 3-point shooting ability and above-average mobility ought to be even more of an asset. Gobert makes for a better pick-and-roll match with point guard D’Angelo Russell, too.
“I’ve always loved to play with another dominant big, because I’ve always thought that I could pass, whether it would be in the short roll or be in a different situation that maybe people haven’t seen me in the last couple years,” Gobert said. “But I know that I can make guys around me better.”
He’s more than merely a shot-blocker and defensive rebounder, too. The 30-year-old has led the NBA in field goal percentage in three of the last four seasons and averaged nearly 15 points per game over the last past six years.
“He’s such a great athlete, he moves so well, that you can really use him in a bunch of ways,” coach Chris Finch said.
The Timberwolves might actually be on the verge of becoming Anthony Edwards’ team. Poised for a breakout third season, Edwards focused on strength and conditioning as well as rebounding — and came back bigger and stronger.
“For sure, attacking the rim. It makes my 3-ball a lot easier. It makes everything a lot easier,” Edwards said. “Defense, people can’t just bully me no more. It makes me feel a lot better.”
ABOUT THAT 2020 CLASS
Jaden McDaniels, who was drafted 27 picks after Edwards in the first round two years ago, will also see his role and responsibility elevated in his third season. He’ll have a clear size advantage over many of his opponents at the small forward spot.
“We’re all capable of playing really any style,” McDaniels said. “I’m just very excited to see how it all works together.”
THE GLUE GUYS
The Timberwolves lost Patrick Beverley, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt in the Gobert deal, but they still have plenty of useful pieces to fit around the star-studded starting lineup.
Jaylen Nowell, Jordan McLaughlin, Taurean Prince and Naz Reid remain from last season’s productive second unit. Kyle Anderson, Bryn Forbes and Austin Rivers are the most notable newcomers next to Gobert. Rivers, who’s entering his 11th year in the NBA after spending last season with Denver, will fill some of the defense and leadership voids without Beverley.
“The way he goes about it will be different from the way I go about it,” Rivers said, “but the message that we’re delivering is from the same cloth.”
ON THE SLATE
Gobert gets to face his former team just three days into the regular season when the revamped Jazz visit on Oct. 21. Minnesota’s first game at Utah is on Dec. 9 to kick off a five-game trip.
The first reprise of the tense first-round series against the Grizzlies is in Memphis on Nov. 11, with a rematch in Minnesota set for Nov. 30.
The Wolves play eight of their last 12 games on the road, including a March 26 visit to defending champion Golden State, but they finish the schedule at home on April 9 against New Orleans.
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