Doubters in his ears, Zach LaVine is out to prove Wolves right
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Zach LaVine is well aware of some of the skepticism surrounding him.
The fan reaction seemed to be mixed when the Minnesota Timberwolves took a gamble Thursday night on the youthful 19-year-old guard with the 13th overall pick in the NBA draft.
Going off only a small body of work, portions of the fan base criticized the selection, deeming LaVine largely unproven, too inconsistent and too much of a work in progress for a Wolves squad that insists it is holding on to a "win-now" mentality.
All of that doesn't seem to matter to LaVine, who was introduced by the Wolves on Friday, along with second round pick Glenn Robinson III.
Exuding obvious confidence and enthusiasm, LaVine made it clear he is out to validate the belief Flip Saunders and the Wolves have that the explosive young guard can be "something special."
"The main thing about me is I don't like doubters," LaVine said. "I always try to prove them wrong."
Used off the bench in his one season at UCLA, LaVine encountered his fair share detractors as he battled through an up and down freshman year, despite moments when his eye-catching playing style was on full display.
LaVine found himself fighting for playing time with fellow guard Bryce Alford, son of Bruins coach Steve Alford. LaVine ended up getting around 24 minutes per game, combining several impressive double-digit performances with stretches of infectiveness for a 9.4 (ppg) scoring average. One of his biggest production dips of the season occurred in UCLA's closing stretch, which saw LaVine score less than five points in five of the Bruins' final seven games.
When he opted to declare for the NBA draft in April, LaVine's decision was thought by some to be premature.
Undeterred, he went through the predraft process feeling he had something extra to prove. Ripe with raw potential and top-tier athleticism, LaVine made sure teams took notice. And they certainly did, as his stock continued to rise as the draft drew closer.
LaVine's average numbers at UCLA did nothing to dissuade Saunders. From several months of scouting, Minnesota's president of basketball operations remained convinced LaVine could fit the Wolves' call for upgraded athleticism.
"I had LaVine pegged, " Saunders said. I was watching him a lot the whole year. I really didn't care much about how much he did or didn't play. He was in a tough situation at UCLA, when you're there and the coach's son is there and you're competing for time. Yet, he was extremely professional in how he dealt with that."
A major question facing LaVine revolves around how he will be utilized in the Wolves' offense.
During a workout with the Wolves in early June, LaVine began the session playing at point guard, being used off pick and rolls. But midway through the workout, LaVine said Saunders shifted him to the two spot, where he felt he could show off more of his athleticism and scoring ability.
Slotting him in at shooting guard means LaVine will be paired up at times with point guard Ricky Rubio - a strong combination of finesse and athleticism that Saunders said he had in mind when he was finalizing the Wolves' draft plans.
"I can definitely see that now," LaVine said of the Wolves' desire to have him and Robinson complement Rubio's playmaking ability. "We can get out and run. We can jump and we can also spot up and shoot and create our own shot as well. With him, you've got to be looking for passes everywhere. It's going to be a lot of fun getting on the court with him."
Although he envisions LaVine primarily as a two-guard, Saunders said the Wolves' top draft pick will get his opportunities at point guard as well.
Saunders was not short on praise for LaVine. He compared him to Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook when talking about the extra burst of speed he unfurls when driving towards the basket in the half-court.
"Not many players have that in our league," Saunders.
It is obvious Saunders thinks highly about the quality player he feels the Wolves were able to land. With that of type high praise comes a certain set of expectations. And with a fan base disillusioned from 10 years of watching its team miss the playoffs, LaVine has much to prove to convince fans that the Wolves made the right decision.
However, if LaVine's warning is to be believed, doubt him at your own risk.