As Timberwolves’ Rudy Gobert returns to Utah, things are starting to click in Minnesota
Gobert, 30, spent the first nine years of his NBA career with the Jazz.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Buddy Hield drove by Rudy Gobert from the perimeter for a layup with 2 minutes left in Wednesday’s game between Indiana and Minnesota.
The play made Gobert look bad. It appeared as though the Timberwolves center took a bad angle when trying to stay in front of the guard and wasn’t able to make a play.
But, Gobert noted, Jaden McDaniels came over to try to help at the rim and was also a step late. In many ways, it was good that McDaniels made the effort. That’s what you want out of a defender — to step in and attempt to help when it looks as though a teammate is beat.
But Gobert is rarely beat.
“I told them (after that) when someone drives on me, stay home,” Gobert said. “Because if you try to help, it’s pretty much cutting me off and I won’t be able to make the block.”
Fast forward to the game’s biggest possession — with the Timberwolves leading by two with 15 seconds left — and Hield again had the ball on the perimeter, guarded by Gobert. The big man stayed snug on the sharpshooter so as not to allow a go-ahead 3-pointer. Hield tried to attack Gobert on the bounce and again got to the rim. But this time, an unimpeded Gobert blocked the shot. Minnesota got the rebound, and the game essentially was over.
“They did a great job staying home the second time,” Gobert said. “All I had to do was be myself and make a play.”
It was perhaps the latest example of a team acclimating itself to its new all-star big man, and vice versa.
“It’s on me to earn that trust. I think I’ve not been at the level I know I can be yet. I think tonight I was there,” Gobert said. “I know that it’s a long season and I’m going to be able to keep raising my level and keep earning that trust. They got some glimpse of it, but they haven’t got to see the real Rudy yet.”
The people who know the “real Rudy” better than most will have a clear view of the 7-foot-1 shot-blocker Friday when Gobert and Minnesota take the floor in Utah, where Gobert, 30, spent the first nine years of his NBA career. During that span, Gobert was one of the game’s truly dominant big men, and perhaps the NBA’s best defensive player.
That was the player he resembled Wednesday as he tallied 16 points and 21 rebounds while patrolling the defensive paint.
“It felt good to just be myself, be able to just help this team win and make winning plays, because that’s what I love to do on both ends,” Gobert said.
That’s the player Utah fans fell in love with — the star in the community and on the floor. Gobert’s magnetic effect is still on display now on social media as the big man, a member of the Timberwolves after the blockbuster trade between Minnesota and Utah in July, is still openly adored by Jazz fans.
“I’m not as much on social media as I used to be. But I feel the love. It’s beyond basketball. In this league when a player gets traded, usually people try to only focus on the basketball,” Gobert said. “But the way I am, things are bigger than just basketball. The community, there’s relationships. There’s a lot of people that always had my back. For me, it means a lot to just see that regardless of what happens on the business side, that on the human side, people are always going to have my back.”
That’s part of what will make Friday so special for the Frenchman. While Utah’s roster has been reshuffled to the point where few of his former coaches and teammates are still in town, many of the workers around the building surely remain. As do the fans and members of the community. The road trip provides an opportunity to connect with many of them. Surely, those inside Vivint Arena will seize the opportunity to shower Gobert with their gratitude.
“I think I just want to enjoy the moment. There’s a lot of people that I have a lot of love for over there. There’s a lot of great memories,” Gobert said. “It’s going to be definitely a little weird walking into the arena but being on a visitor team and a visitor locker room. I never saw the visitor locker room. I get to see it. I just want to enjoy the moment and, of course, get a win.”
Gobert is in the process of building similar relationships in Minnesota, planting roots and creating memories. That takes time. But perhaps it’s all starting to come together. The “Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!” chants at Target Center after his game-sealing block suggests the fan base is certainly embracing him. Gobert played perhaps his best game in a Timberwolves uniform Wednesday.
“I feel like he’s getting there,” Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards said. “He’s starting to smile a lot more, so we happy.”
Gobert wants to keep building and getting to know everyone in and around the organization while maintaining his pursuit of an NBA championship.
“Just keep trying to do good,” he said, “everywhere I go.”
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