Saunders calls Wolves pick Zach LaVine 'the best athlete in the draft'
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MINNNEAPOLIS -- Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders came away satisfied Thursday night when UCLA guard Zach LaVine was still available when Minnesota's draft pick rolled around at No. 13.
"Athletically, he's the best athlete in the draft," Saunders said shortly after the 19-year-old LaVine was taken by the Wolves 13th overall.
On Thursday morning, as he went to finalize his draft day list, Saunders said LaVine was among his top options. It was all a matter of how the draft played out in what was projected to be a highly active for NBA front offices.
"I took a piece of paper, put his name down and hoped he would be there. Fortunately for us he was there," Saunders said.
LaVine undoubtedly possesses a level of athleticism that is enough to make teams take notice, but his freshman season with the Bruins was at times a rocky one.
Despite several breakout games, the Washington state native, who served in a bench role for UCLA, averaged 9.5 points and 1.8 assists in 37 games, logging around 24 minutes per night. His struggles peaked near the end of the season when he averaged only 3.5 points in his final seven games.
LaVine's decision to declare for the NBA after only year at UCLA was questioned by some, but his stock began to rise rapidly as he went through the NBA scouting combine and other predraft workouts.
Saunders said he was not put off by LaVine's less-than-overwhelming college stats. Instead, he was impressed by the long-term, high-end potential the raw prospect may hold.
"If you can take a guy that has some athleticism and has some skills and is willing to put the time in to develop those skills even more, you really have something special," Saunders said.
He added, "(LaVine) might not be as ready-made as some of the players, but you're going to be able to point him out just because of how dynamic he is when he's on the floor, he's going to make something happen."
As for the trade speculation surrounding the Wolves and Kevin Love, Saunders insisted LaVine would not be part of any potential deals.