27 July, 2024
10 August
Rudy Gobert _ FRA
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Rudy Gobert's mission to be ''legendary''

MINNEAPOLIS (Minnesota) - Rudy Gobert has found a way to ease the pain of France's World Cup nightmare.

He inflicts it on others, on the hardwood, for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

After that excruciating 88-86 loss to Latvia at the World Cup, which doomed France's chances of reaching the podium for a third straight time, Gobert has returned to Minnesota for his second season and finally starting to live up to his "Stifle Tower" nickname.

He's ferocious, relentless and unyielding. The team is playing much better and are one of the best in the West.


Gobert's been so good that there's a good chance the 31-year-old will win Defensive Player of the Year for the fourth time, which would cement his reputation as an NBA legend.

"Legendary," he said to L'Equipe. "... I love that word (smile).

"At the end of my career, I want to be regarded as the greatest defensive player in history or the best of my generation, considering the difficulty of comparing eras.

"This trophy embodies the values that resonate with me: determination and resilience. I do things, both on and off the court, that have a lasting impact. I take pride in that."

Twice this season, Gobert has had as many as six blocks in a game, both times against the Memphis Grizzlies. He is averaging 2.1 blocks per game, which looks even better when you remember that last season he averaged only 1.4 blocks per contest.

Gobert is also having another double-double campaign - 13.8 points and 12.8 rebounds per game.

Minnesota coach Chris Finch saw even before the season had started that Gobert was going to be better in year two.

"He returned at the end of the summer with higher energy and motivation," said Finch, among the favorites for the Coach of the Year award. "The new dimension he has taken is to be credited to his summer work."

Gobert did not arrive particularly happy.

Eighteenth out of 32 teams at the World Cup was far below the standard France have created for themselves. They were third at the 2019 World Cup, second at the Tokyo Olympics and second at FIBA EuroBasket 2022. Gobert had a memorable World Cup debut in 2014, when France were also third.

That Gobert has been excellent should not be a surprise. He worked hard at the World Cup, maintaining a competitive edge. He still had his individual workouts in the summer. Gobert also took some time to rest and recharge the batteries.

The World Cup exertions helped other Timberwolves players, Karl Anthony Towns of the Dominican Republic, Anthony Edwards of USA, Nickiel Alexander Walker of Canada, and Kyle Anderson of China, also stay sharp. All of them have had terrific seasons in Minnesota.

Towns will undergo surgery to repair a torn left meniscus and will be re-evaluated just before the playoffs. Gobert and Edwards will have to do even more now.

Gobert says he and France will use the World Cup setback to their advantage.

"In hindsight, losing in that manner might be a good thing for us," Gobert said. "We needed a lesson. When you have too much success, you can forget how you got where you are.

"It's human. That's what happened to us. It will force us into a deep reflection, both individually and collectively."

They lost, but they also learned. France needed a wake-up call.

"At the World Cup, " Gobert said, "We somewhat lost our identity, especially our defensive foundation. Talent is good, but without rigor on the other side, it creates inconsistency.

"Canada came at us hard, and Latvia reminded us that a well-oiled collective playing tough can beat anyone."

France, who lost their opening game at the World Cup to Canada, 90-60,  before falling to Latvia, have too many elite level players in the NBA and Europe not to go far in international tournaments.



This summer the 2.16M (7'1") Gobert will play alongside the 2.24M (7'4") Victor Wembanyama, a rookie with the NBA's San Antonio Spurs.

"Stifle Towers" has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

This could be the most intimidating one-two punch in French national team history.

"Regarding the Olympics, my partnership with Victor in the paint will make us unique," Gobert said. "We each have different strengths, and we can make each other better. I'm excited to accompany him, push him every day. It's going to be fun."

There is also the potential of another Gold Medal Game showdown between France and USA.

The Americans edged France in the title game in Tokyo, 87-82. France had won their Quarter-Final at the 2019 World Cup in China and also the teams' opening game in Tokyo.

Rematch, anyone?

"USA, I hope they bring their best team," Gobert said. "They will be the favorites, for sure. But it doesn't change anything. We know we might not have the most talented roster, but we won't be afraid of anyone. If strategically we play to our strengths, together, and have the right mentality, I don't see why we should set limits for ourselves."