Is this the best Rudy Gobert has ever played? No, Timberwolves center is just back to his dominant self

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Most Timberwolves postgame press conferences these days follow a similar tenor for coach Chris Finch as he discusses the team’s latest victory.

The team found a way to win. The defense was awesome. The group is maturing with each passing game. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

It’s repetitive. Frankly, how could it not be? Trying to analyze more of the same in a unique way after each performance is impossible.

For instance, Finch was asked about veteran point guard Mike Conley’s value to the team for probably the hundredth time after the Wolves’ win Wednesday over San Antonio.

“There’s no new way to say how important he is,” Finch said.

Which is fair. These points can only be delivered in so many various forms. Conley’s game control is invaluable. Anthony Edwards loves the big moment. Rudy Gobert dominates opponents from the interior. These are pillars upon which Minnesota has built its league-leading 16-4 record.

But Finch did spice up Wednesday’s presser when discussing Gobert.

“This is the best I’ve ever seen him play,” the coach said.

Which is quite a statement for a three-time, NBA Defensive Player of the Year. But Gobert himself agreed with the assertion.

“Personally, I think I’m the best Rudy I’ve ever been,” Gobert said. “And I think there’s still a lot of other ways to grow. I’m pushing myself every day to keep learning, keep getting better and stronger. I’m hungry. I want to win.”

Certainly, Gobert is significantly better than the player he was a year ago. Gobert never looked fresh or healthy throughout last year as he battled back injuries and seemed to lack speed and explosion.

The first 20 games of this season is a prime representation of peak Gobert. Or, maybe regular Gobert? Edwards noted this year’s version is the best Gobert he’s played with — and that’s not a close contest. But Edwards also said Gobert is “actually getting back to the Rudy he was in Utah.”

And the numbers bear that out.

As great as Gobert has been this season — he has the best defensive player in the NBA to date — statistically, he essentially is just on par with the Gobert of old. His Win Shares per 48 minutes is currently still lower than it was in any season from 2016-17 through his final season in Utah.

He’s had higher rebounding percentages and block percentages. Finch noted Gobert’s offensive excellence this season. That has been especially true of late. Over Minnesota’s past nine games, Gobert has posted a scorching true shooting percentage of 73.8 percent. That would be the highest number of his career, but only fractionally better than the 73.2 percent he recorded over the course of the 2021-22 season in Utah.

Which is all to do nothing to diminish what Gobert has brought to Minnesota this season. The Timberwolves currently have the best defense in the NBA. And the way in which the defense struggled with Gobert in foul trouble Wednesday was a reminder of how important the center has been to the team’s total defensive success.

But in the 2020-21 season, Utah held opponents to 100.9 points per 100 possessions, compared to 104 this season, as the Jazz outscored opponents by 15.9 points per 100 possessions.

So no, this may not be the best Rudy Gobert of all time, as difficult as that is to believe. Because he has been one of the NBA’s most dominant forces for years.

Perhaps the numerous ways in which he drives winning are simply easier for many to appreciate when the performances are in front of your face on a nightly basis.

But kudos to the All-NBA center for constantly trying to usurp the insanely high standard he’s set for himself.

“Until you win, you never stop. And even when you win, you want to win again. Right now, I’m trying to win a championship, and I’ll do whatever it takes, anything that’s in my power,” Gobert said. “And make it fun. It’s about having fun, too.”

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