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Updated: July 9th, 2014 1:10pm
Wolves Summer League notebook: LaVine making a solid first impression

Wolves Summer League notebook: LaVine making a solid first impression

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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MINNNEAPOLS -- First round draft pick Zach LaVine has left a solid impression so far during the Timberwolves' four-day Summer League minicamp.

Even after the first practice session Monday, head coach Flip Saunders came away with high praise for the 19-year-old guard.

"I thought LaVine was exceptional today," Saunders said. "He's got an unbelievable feel for the game."

Much was made about LaVine's athleticism after the Wolves selected him with the 13th overall pick. Saunders raved that LaVine was the best athlete in the draft.

For all the talk, LaVine certainly stands out in that regard. While the media was only able to watch 10-minute snippets of practices on Monday and Tuesday, it was easy to see the top-end speed Saunders was talking about, as LaVine blew past his defender numerous times en route to the basket or a pass out to an open teammate.

There is obviously a level of rawness and lack of polish to his game, but LaVine posses a skill set that is enough to at least make one take notice.

Primarily used as a shooting guard at UCLA, LaVine has played mostly at the point in the first two days of practices with the Wolves, though he describes his role as a combo guard.

Saunders is already convinced LaVine will work in his system as a point guard with the added benefit of position flexibility.

"There's no question he can play the one," Saunders remarked. "His understanding of what we want him to do, how to play, how to initiate the offense and be creative, there's no question ... Any time you have a player that can play multiple positions like he can it makes him even more effective."

When asked about one of the areas he needs to improve in, LaVine laughed slightly, "You guys can tell, I'm 185 (pounds), so I need to get into the weight room."

One thing that LaVine is not lacking is confidence. From the minute he was officially introduced by the Wolves, he has come across as notably sure of himself, both on the court and off it, without coming off as cocky. That has carried through to the Wolves' workouts.

"Whenever I step on the court I'm always trying to be the best player," LaVine said. "I have high goals for myself. There's still a lot of doubters out there. I read all the things on Twitter. I keep those in my back pocket. I feel like I've turned a lot of heads since I came out (of college)."

Budinger joins Summer League squad

Forward Chase Budinger arrived in Minneapolis Tuesday and went through practice that evening

Budinger has joined in on the Summer League workouts so the Wolves can get an idea of where is at condition-wise and allow him time to get adjusted to the new coaches and offensive system.

No longer wearing a brace over his left knee, Budinger looked and sounded like a rejuvenated player ready to start a new chapter.

"This is the best I've felt since before my injuries," Budinger said. "I'm getting my athletic ability back. I'm not worrying about the knee at all when I'm playing or doing workouts. It just feels good."

Signed by the Wolves in 2012, Budinger's past two seasons have been marred by knee injuries. A torn meniscus kept him sidelined for all but 23 games in his first season in Minnesota. His road back to the court took another bad turn when his knee required a second surgery just before training camp last fall

Once he finally returned to the Wolves' lineup in January, Budinger struggled to find his shot and on-court rhythm. He played in 41 games, averaging 6.7 points.

Saunders admitted the Wolves could have done more to help him with the post-injury transition.

"As I told him (Tuesday), we probably made a mistake, because when we brought him back we probably should have put him in the D-League," Saunders said. "We should have put him in the D-League to rehab him and used that to get his confidence going. We brought him in midstream and that probably wasn't fair to him."

Budinger agreed a D-League stint may have provided a boost in his rehab, but he isn't dwelling on the past. Instead, he is simply happy to feel healthy again. In turn, he has been able to get an arch on his shot that was missing all of last season.

"I have my lift back," Budinger said. "I'm able to get off the ground on jump shots, really get up there and have my normal shot back, which I didn't have at the end of the season. I think that's why I was missing so many, especially missing short."

Budinger will travel with the Wolves to Las Vegas this weekend for Summer League, but Saunders was unsure about how much playing time, if any, he will get.

Other minicamp notes:

• The Wolves wanted center Gorgui Dieng to put on weight. He has certainly done that. Dieng said he is up 17 pounds, from 235 to 252, and may try to add a few more when Summer League wraps up.

• The new Saunders-led coaching staff has brought a fresh, up-tempo feel to practices. The intensity is noticeably ratcheted up when compared to practices last season under veteran coach Rick Adelman. With Saunders taking the lead, his three main assistants -- Sam Mitchell, Sidney Lowe and Ryan Saunders - have been thrown right into the mix.

"They're a lot more vocal, very energetic out there," Budinger said. "All of the coaches are involved, really teaching, teaching a lot. They're a lot tougher practices. Talking to the guys who were here last year, they're all incredibly sore."

• A possible by-product of the high-intensity practices, Saunders said three or four players sat out parts of Tuesday's workouts due to cramping, including second-year swingman Shabazz Muhammad and rookie Glenn Robinson III.

• Gophers coach Richard Pitino watched practice on Monday. He later told Saunders he was impressed by the explosiveness Muhammad showed off at times.

"Talking to Richard, he was just surprised how hard (Muhammad) played, because he plays so hard and so aggressive," Saunders said.

• The Wolves' scrimmage Wednesday night on the Target Center's main court is open to the public. The scrimmage is set to begin at 7 p.m.

• The Wolves will practice again on Thursday before heading off to Las Vegas. They open Summer League play on Saturday against Dallas.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
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