Rudy Gobert, No. 26 (Mock Draft)
The French rim-protector looks to make an impact in Minnesota.
by Jay Wallis / @JayWallis11
Even though most of the national attention will be focused on the lottery section of the first round of the NBA Draft, the importance of the bottom half should not be disregarded. While the top picks are often used to change the direction of a franchise or alter the plan for a team, the latter picks give an organization the opportunity to choose a player that can fit into its roster.
Just look at five of the past six players who have been drafted at 26.
Jordan Hamilton. Quincy Pondexter. Taj Gibson. George Hill. Aaron Brooks.
Every single one of these players filled a specific role for a Playoff team, and other than Brooks, who helped the Rockets in the Playoffs during his first two years in the League, everyone else was a part of the Playoffs this past year. Pondexter, Gibson and Hill remained in their team’s condensed rotation, making an impact toward their team’s success.
My point here is that for Playoff-striving teams, the right move at 26 can provide a piece that fits in a certain way for the betterment of the team. And as I already explained with my earlier pick, these hungry Wolves are closing in on making the Playoffs and need to find their missing pieces.
By taking Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with its No. 9 pick, the Wolves obtain the long-range threat they so desperately require. Next on their list of needs is a defensive big man. Coming off a season in which Kevin Love only played 18 games due to multiple injuries and going into a summer without knowing if Nikola Pekovic will be back, this team needs some insurance for their frontcourt. At the same time, they want a player who has the chance of developing one of these designated roles that the No. 26 pick has been producing of late. Greg Stiemsma was serviceable off the bench and led the team by averaging 1.2 blocks per game, but the Wolves don’t really have that paint presence to anchor a defense.
Looking at the Spurs’ success in this year’s NBA Finals and previous NBA Drafts, it is apparent that Popovich and his front office love to bring foreign players to the team. That explains their record-breaking eight international players on this year’s roster. The Spurs aren’t the only organization that has a liking for foreigners as the Wolves and Cavaliers have the second most in the League with five each. (And the Wolves have six if you count Barea, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico.)
Even though recently fired general manager David Kahn was the largest advocate for bringing international players to Minnesota, newly hired President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders will still give attention to non-Americans. Earlier this month, Saunders traveled to the adidas EuroCamp to see some of the best international prospects in this year’s Draft.
There is one European player, who unfortunately had food poisoning at the EuroCamp, who could be a part of a backup big man plan and grow into a role player for future Playoff runs.
And he can nearly touch the rim without jumping.
With the 26th pick in the 2013 SLAMonline Mock Draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves select…
Rudy Gobert from France.
Let me start by pointing out the obvious—this kid is kind of big. Standing 7-2 with an absurd standing reach of 9-7 (an NBA Combine record), Gobert’s best “skill” is clearly his length. As the cliché goes, “you can’t teach height,” and the 20-year-old tower has some of that and more to spare.
Even with all this height to handle, Gobert has soft hands, allowing him to catch most anything that is thrown his way. This leads to the foreigner being excellent at going up to dunk lob passes, catching the ball off a pick-and-roll and finishing plenty of putbacks. With his size and these great hands, once he gets deep in the paint, he finishes well around the rim, leading to his 74 percent shooting on two-point attempts this season in France.
But let’s make something clear—this could be a complete bust. Any time a team brings over a foreign player who hasn’t gone up against this nation’s level of play, that inexperience can easily be swallowed up by superior competition. It’s why most teams’ managements are wary of scouting outside of the states.
In 2008, the Bobcats selected Alexis Ajinca, a similarly built 7-2 Frenchman, with their No. 20 pick. Let’s just say Ajinca can be clumped into the clutter of failed picks attributed to Michael Jordan. Ajinca averaged 3.1 points and 1.6 rebounds in 71 games over four seasons and is now out of the League. He was a complete bust.
So why will Gobert pan out differently for the Wolves than Ajinca did for the Bobcats and all the other failed foreign projects?
Unlike Ajinca who looked to be a three-point shooter, making his height advantage a non-factor, Gobert is a shot blocker who shines on the defensive end of the court and understands this is how he can find a place in the League. He ranked first in blocks per game in Pro A France play the past two seasons. As he said himself at the NBA Combine, “I’m trying to be like Tyson Chandler.”
What a quality model for a young power forward or center to imitate. This mentality is important for Gobert’s development. He has a rational understanding of what his skills are and wants to replicate the defensive force Chandler has made a career out of.
He may still be very raw, but playing in three straight seasons of professional basketball has given him quality experience. Along with his obvious length, Gobert’s exceptional speed and coordination make him extremely difficult to go up against when he is protecting the paint or hedging on pick-and-rolls. Fellow Frenchman and current Blazer Nicolas Batum said that Gobert’s “mindset is to protect the rim and get rebounds first.” As long as this remains true, Gobert has the potential to find a purpose and a place in Minnesota.
Some things need to happen first, though. With his current weight of 238 pounds, skinny legs and lanky build, this quiet big man needs to put on more muscle, especially in his upper body, if he wants to bang against the big bodies of the NBA and prevent those big bodies from scoring. His lack of strength and toughness has also led to an inability to finish through contact and in traffic. Playing in the NBA will present plenty of that for Gobert, which he needs to be able to fight through. Getting in the weight room will be essential in order for this transition to become fruitful.
Gobert also lacks a polished post game, looking awkward when he has his back to the basket and must make a move toward the rim. His soft touch in catching passes often disappears once he has to dribble and create offense on his own. If the Wolves can bring back Pekovic, this aggressive bruiser can show the Frenchman how to establish deep position in the paint, use some effective post moves and work with Ricky Rubio in the pick-and-roll…that last one could be very entertaining for fans to see.
It may not be any skill or statistic, but what makes me most confident about Gobert is his commitment to having an NBA career. Even though he might be difficult to understand at times and often comes across as timid, he seems determined to make it in America.
Coming from the most represented foreign country in the NBA with 10 current players, Gobert has a chance to increase this number and provide Minnesota with a rim protector who can be a part of their eventual Playoff run. With an increase in size, continued progress and the right mindset, he will turn this chance into a reality.
|2013 SLAMonline Mock Draft|
|1||Cavs||Otto Porter||16||Celtics||Mason Plumee|
|2||Magic||Nerlens Noel||17||Hawks||Lucas Nogueira|
|3||Wizards||Anthony Bennett||18||Hawks||Tony Mitchell|
|4||Bobcats||Ben McLemore||19||Cavs||Sergey Karasev|
|5||Suns||Victor Oladipo||20||Bulls||Gorgui Dieng|
|6||Pelicans||Trey Burke||21||Jazz||Ricky Ledo|
|7||Kings||CJ McCollum||22||Nets||Dennis Schroeder|
|8||Pistons||Michael Carter-Williams||23||Pacers||Reggie Bullock|
|9||TWolves||Kentavious Caldwell-Pope||24||Knicks||Nate Wolters|
|10||Blazers||Shabazz Muhammad||25||Clippers||Jamaal Franklin|
|11||Sixers||Steven Adams||26||TWolves||Rudy Gobert|