Wetmore: Wolves gamble on upside, swing for a 'home run' player
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Last season, when Flip Saunders drafted Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, the head coach of the Timberwolves (Rick Adelman) didn't find them much playing time in the first part of the season. Perhaps the President of Basketball Operations and the head coach wanted different things, or perhaps the coach simply didn't feel comfortable those two young players could accomplish what he asked them early in their NBA careers.
Whatever the case, we're certain of one thing: the coach and the president will be on the same page this year.
Saunders spent the No. 13 pick in Thursday's draft on UCLA point guard Zach LaVine. And it's not hard to see the 19 year old getting playing time to develop this season, Saunders' first back on Minnesota's bench since 2005.
Some analysts see LaVine as less NBA-ready than other prospects in the draft. Saunders didn't rebuff the notion LaVine may have a lower floor than other players. But it sounded Thursday like Saunders is more concerned with the ceiling.
"Sometimes you have to try to hit a home run," Saunders said at a press conference shortly after the pick. "Some players that are ready-made, they're only going to be doubles hitters. This guy has the opportunity to be a homerun player with development.
Saunders said Thursday that LaVine was rated 7th on Minnesota's draft board, although he acknowledged that some players received a downgrade because their position or skills does not fit what the Wolves need.
"One need we did have is the ability for somebody to create, get to the basket, do things in the open floor," Saunders said. "He's a multi-position player, he can play [shooting guard], he can play some [point guard]. Athletically, he's the best athlete in the draft. He has great speed.
"What I love about him is, defensively, this past year he had 28 [isolation] situations and got blown by on the dribble one time. So I believe he's got the ability to be an elite two-way type player."
Will his swing for the fences produce the coveted long ball or will we look back at this pick as a swing and a miss?
Saunders has spent untold more hours searching for that answer than I have, so I won't shoot from the hip and shred the pick. One criticism of LaVine's only college season, however, is his NCAA tournament performance. In three March Madness games, LaVine shot 3-for-15 and 0-for-8 at the free throw line. He scored just 8 points in 57 minutes for the Bruins between the three games.
In 37 regular season games, he shot 44.1 percent from the field and he made 37.5 percent of his 3-pointers. He had a 66:42 assist-to-turnover ratio in his one collegiate season, and Saunders said he envisions LaVine playing at shooting guard in the NBA, and also "some" point guard. Saunders said he can take some of the pressure of Ricky Rubio in ballhandling.