The Minnesota Timberwolves have missed the playoffs 10 seasons in a row, which is the longest drought in the NBA. Minnesota has been in the headlines recently as superstar power forward Kevin Love has informed the team that he will opt out of his contract after next season, which will make him an unrestricted free agent.
The Timberwolves are currently negotiating with the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers for notable players like shooting guard Klay Thompson and first overall pick Andrew Wiggins. As of now, it is not clear which, if either, team will acquire Love and which players will be sent to Minnesota.
What is clear, however, is that the Timberwolves have some young talent currently on the roster, showing Minnesota fans during the Las Vegas Summer League that there is hope for the future. Among them is the 13th overall pick in this year’s draft, guard Zach LaVine from UCLA.
LaVine had an up-and-down freshman season at UCLA playing mostly at shooting guard, but he has the talent to be a very effective combo-guard at the pro level. When asked about playing point guard in the Wolves’ summer league games, LaVine spoke about his versatility and ability to play either guard spot.
“I’m playing a little bit of both,” LaVine said. “When it gets tough to bring it up… Coach [Flip Saunders] wants to have the speed to bring it up and stuff like that. But when he needs me to score or different things like that, in different sets, I play two as well. I feel comfortable at both. I didn’t play it much last year, but I got my handle still so I feel pretty good about it.”
Even though his numbers didn’t jump off of the stat sheet in his one season at UCLA, LaVine has always played with confidence. LaVine believes that confidence has already helped him this summer while competing against other young NBA players. He averaged 15.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in summer league play.
“I’m a very confident person, I put a lot of work in,” LaVine said. “I just don’t try to get riled out there. You’ve been playing this game for so long, you know what to do out there, so you just got to take it play by play and just do your best.”
LaVine was selected higher in the draft than a lot of other college players with more experience and better stats due in part to his athleticism and potential, which the Timberwolves are hoping to maximize. Knowing this, LaVine used the Vegas Summer League as an opportunity to get used to running the Minnesota offense.
“I feel like I’ve been just setting up the plays really well, running the team,” LaVine said. “Getting to the hole, creating for others and then making my shots when I have to. And this last game, just competing really hard on defense and just going out there and having fun.”
LaVine is an exciting, but raw player. At just 19 years old, with only one year of experience at the college level, LaVine will have a steep learning curve entering the NBA. What will translate immediately, however, is his elite athleticism. In Vegas, LaVine put up some of the most impressive dunks of the summer, including this one in Minnesota’s game against the Phoenix Suns, but didn’t come out completely unscathed.
“I actually kind of hurt my arm a little bit, trying to make a little bit of a statement,” LaVine said. “We’re up by a little bit and I went to the hoop and I wanted to dunk it kind of hard to let them know we’re here to play now, so it definitely hurt a little bit, but I’m good.”
Minnesota went on to win only two of its four games, but LaVine and other young players like second-year center Gorgui Dieng got some quality experience playing with one another.
“You can just throw it up to him and he’ll get it,” LaVine said when asked about playing with Dieng, who showed great potential in his rookie season. “He gets a lot of different rebounds. He battles you for the rebound, that’s the crazy thing, so that’s good. He’s a really smart player, he knows what he’s doing, he’s only in his second year but he’s definitely someone you can get the ball to and he’s going to be efficient. … The big fella is cool, he’s really funny, lighthearted, down to earth and a really good basketball player, so we’re really having a good connection right now.”
Love may have one foot out the door, but young players like point guard Ricky Rubio, LaVine and Dieng give the Timberwolves hope for a brighter future. If another player like Andrew Wiggins joins them, Minnesota’s future will appear brighter than it has in quite some time.
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