By Antonis Stroggylakis / email@example.com
Jakarta, Indonesia – The 2023 FIBA World Cup ended, very early and even more ingloriously, for medal contender France and that means a return to club business for Les Bleus players. Including Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert.
Gobert has high hopes for the upcoming season and you can feel it when he talks about it with a smile on his face and a sheer, honest optimism in his voice; a welcome change of positivity to also help wash away the sour taste of France’s elimination. His first season in Minnesota included a transitional period for him after nine years with the Utah Jazz and he now looks forward to showing the player who’s been crowned an NBA DPOY three times (2018, 2019, 2021).
“It was a lot of adjustments to make,” Gobert said when asked by Eurohoops to assess his debut year with the Timberwolves after the final World Cup game for eliminated France – a win over Ivory Coast. “Outside the court and on the court obviously. Joining a new organization. Joining a new fanbase. Going to a new place. Getting out of my comfort zone a bit.”
“But I think it was a great year we had,” Gobert added. “We didn’t go as far as we wanted to go but we were resilient. We had a lot of injuries and a lot of things that didn’t go our way. But we kept fighting. I liked the mindset that we had. Especially in the playoffs. And we fought.”
The Timberwolves finished the 2022-23 regular season with a 42-40 record for their first back-to-back years with a winning track since 2004 and 2005 . They were eliminated 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs by a Denver Nuggets team that proved to be unstoppable by anyone en route to winning the championship.
When summer arrived several Timberwolves players committed to joining their national teams in summer tournaments, most prominently the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
Apart from Gobert, who hasn’t missed a tournament with the French national team since 2019, Karl Anthony-Towns geared up for the Dominican Republic with some stunning results thus far. Team USA welcomed the firepower of Anthony Edwards while Canada features Nickeil Walker-Alexander. Kyle Anderson joined China.
Gobert loves to see his teammates performing on the international stage of the World Cup and thinks that it will benefit the entire Timberwolves team next season. He believes these key players will enter 2023-24 extra battle-hardened after getting baptized in a different, challenging type of basketball and competition.
“I think all of us as a group coming back this year,” Gobert said. “I think that all the things we went through last year… it’s going to pay dividends this season. Half the team plays in the World Cup. I’m really happy about that, seeing guys representing their countries. And I think that the international basketball experience is truly going to help our team too.”
In a way, Gobert’s comments echo what Portland Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups and Sacramento Kings coach Mike Brown said to Eurohoops last year during the EuroBasket on how these tourneys toughen up the players and prepares them to better face their season in the NBA.
“I’m really excited,” Gobert added. “Now I’m out of the World Cup so I can really focus on having the best season I can have.”
With the prospect of re-discovering his dominant form, expecting that Karl Anthony-Towns will not miss as many games and considering that Anthony Edwards can vault his performances into new heights, where does Gobert set the ceiling for the upcoming season?
“I think we have the potential to be really really good,” Gobert said. “I think we’re going to have a good training camp. Build good habits.I think we have the potential to be a top two defensive team. And I don’t need to talk about how talented we are offensively. If we come in with the mindset of doing whatever it takes to have the team win and holding each other accountable while doing that, I think we’re going to have a surprisingly really good year.”
In statements he made to Eurohoops a few days ago, Gobert talked about how accountable he feels after the elimination of France in the World Cup, especially as one of the team’s leaders.
Now, he admitted that he didn’t reach the standards he sets himself in his debut year with the Timberwolves and explained why he believes this will change next season.
“It was definitely a year where I didn’t play as good as I could,” Gobert acknowledged. “But I kept fighting. I kept working. I kept being a good teammate and being a good leader. Now, I’m feeling better physically, feeling better mentally. Now I’m not in the process of adjusting to a new system and a new team. So it’s going to be different year.”
“It’s a lot of things. The most important thing for me is to be better. And I love that people are judging me with high expectations.”
Gobert doesn’t mind it when fans, analysts or NBA veterans (hello there Shaq) tend to criticize him, perhaps unjustly some times. He actually embraces it.
“I love it. I think it comes with accomplishing big things, people hold you to high standards. I hold myself to higher standards than they do. It’s a blessing for me. As I said, I’m excited coming back next year and be the best player I can be.”