The infamous Rudy Gobert trade sparked strong criticism and immense doubt two offseasons ago. Skeptics hyper-analyzed the potential fit of Gobert next to Minnesota’s other seven-footer. However, Tim Connelly knew exactly what he was doing. In a seismic deal, the Minnesota Timberwolves became something they hadn’t been for a very long time: winners.

The organization, prior to their franchise-defining trade, had become synonymous with losing. This season, however, is a different story. For the first time in two decades, Minnesota is restored to relevancy. Gobert’s arrival in the Twin Cities marked more than just the addition of a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. His presence provides more than a nightly double-double and elite rim deterrence. Rudy Gobert embodies winning.

A heroic come from behind win by the San Antonio Spurs knocked the Denver Nuggets down a peg on Friday night. With that Denver loss, the race for the number one seed was back on. Gobert’s competitive nature and will to win prevented the Wolves’ big opportunity from slipping away.

The Atlanta Hawks had zero answer for the Stifle Tower on Friday night. The Wolves' big connected on all 10 of his field goal attempts as Target Center turned into a dunk fest. Gobert’s 25 points were the headliner, but he wasn’t done there. Minnesota’s 7’1” center tallied an incredulous 19 rebounds and swatted five shots to boot.

As he has all season, Minnesota’s anchor led the way again. This Wolves win, which forced a three-way tie for first place with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Nuggets, is bigger than just one regular season game. It symbolizes everything Rudy Gobert has brought to the Timberwolves.

Rudy Gobert, the tone setter for Timberwolves

 Atlanta Hawks head coach Quin Snyder and Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert (27) talk during a break from play in the first half at Target Center
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch has often praised Gobert’s mentality, focus, and preparation. Those qualities shine into his desire to win. Postgame, Finch doubled down on the importance his presence plays into wins like Friday night.

“Rudy is the reason we don’t lose. He doesn’t let us lose these games.”

While that may sound obvious given the quality of the game Gobert had, Finch’s message cuts deeper. On the game, Anthony Edwards scored just 14 points on 4-12 shooting and Karl-Anthony Towns, in his return from injury, mustered just 11 points while shaking off some rust. Despite KAT’s slow return and Ant’s off night, Minnesota still managed to pull out the win.

Gobert’s ability to control the glass and execute the gameplan defensively show up in the box score and showcase his value. However, the standard he holds himself and his teammates to has completely changed the Wolves’ culture. At times, the Wolves’ anchor is noticeably irate on the court when a defensive coverage gets blown or if someone misses a box-out.

That edge the veteran big provides has been a complete culture definer. Defense matters. Rebounding matters. Winning habits matter. As a result, Minnesota has ranked as the NBA’s number one defense all season long. Pair that with their collection of offensive talent, it’s no surprise the Wolves find themselves tied for best in the West with just one game remaining.

Winning is everything

This season, Minnesota has secured the second best regular season record in franchise history, just a few wins short of the 2003-04 squad. Postgame, ClutchPoints asked the Timberwolves’ center what it means to deliver win after win for this fanbase that’s experienced so much hardship.

“It means a lot. Since I got here, it’s been my goal to try to help this organization see some things that they’ve never seen before and to be in a position they’ve never been in before… A position to play for a championship. That’s a position I’ve never really been in before either… [I’ve] never played a conference final. That’s what I want to be. That’s part of who I am. You know, I’m really grateful that [the Timberwolves] believe in me. They put me in a position to come here and try to achieve that. So now, the work is paying off. Everything that we went through last year and everything that we went through this year. It’s starting to click and made us better as a team. We have a pretty cool opportunity to make it happen.”

At this point of his career, Gobert has one goal yet to check off. That goal: winning at the highest level. The work he puts into his body, the preparation for every single game, and the execution on the floor are all signals of his desire to win. Gobert’s maturity has rubbed off onto the others, building a culture predicated on a team-first, win-together identity.

Despite all of the initial criticism, Gobert’s presence has propelled the Wolves into a winning machine with a complete culture reset. Gobert’s on-court dominance and off-court professionalism mean one thing: Minnesota got the last laugh.