This is the third installment in a 15-part series running Tuesdays and Fridays profiling each Minnesota Timberwolves player leading up to the start of the NBA season.
It would seem not even the Internet can contain Zach LaVine.
Google search his name, and there’s an overwhelming amount of jaw-dropping dunks and combine numbers floating around the cyber-sphere. He’s been making the Twin Cities rounds, too, attracting more web hits after trying a Juicy Lucy burger at Matt’s Bar and Grill and throwing out the first pitch at a recent Twins game. Search further back for an ill-timed, expletive-ridden remark of relief initially mistaken for frustration at being drafted by the Timberwolves.
He’s a 19-year-old local Internet sensation just a year removed from high school in Seattle.
And he hasn’t played an NBA game yet.
After drumming up the potential of their 13th overall draft pick, Flip Saunders and the Timberwolves will likely exercise caution in proclaiming expectations of the 6-foot-5, 180-pound combo guard.
But they’re there whether his coach wants them to be or not. When they can be fulfilled, however, is up for more debate.
2013-14 stats (UCLA): 9.4 PPG, 44.1 FG %, 37.5 3-point %, 2.5 RPG, 1.8 APG, 69.1 FT % during 24.4 MPG in 37 games
2014-15 salary: $2,055,840
Last year: LaVine wasn’t the most highly touted prep prospect in the land but was ranked as the West Coast’s No. 1 shooting guard and the country’s No. 6 point guard by Scout.com. That alone speaks to the versatility Saunders liked when selecting LaVine in this year’s draft.
His collegiate numbers were pedestrian, but the plays he put on film were attractive, Saunders said. LaVine started just one game, further skewing his stats while raising questions about his NBA readiness.
But LaVine declared for the draft, anyway, and began turning heads at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. There, he posted a 41.5-inch vertical leap.
Later, at a pre-draft workout the Lakers, he skied 46 inches during a vertical test.
He was considered to have an outside shot at hearing his name called when the Wolves picked 13th overall. When he did, he was caught on camera muttering the expletive heard ’round the world: "(expletive) me."
LaVine admitted it wasn’t the best first impression but immediately cleared it up by saying he was relieved to have finally been picked — not upset to be joining a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs in 10 years. Then, LaVine got to work, averaging a team-high 15.7 points per game in six NBA Las Vegas Summer League appearances.
This year: LaVine’s mystique has only grown since then.
He engaged then-future teammate Andrew Wiggins in a Vine-fueled dunk contest at the Panini America trading cards rookie photo shoot. He threw down a windmill slam at the Seattle Pro-Am. He was at the Minnesota State Fair when Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young were introduced following the Kevin Love trade, and he attended a Vikings practice and showed off his pitching arm before the Twins’ Sept. 5 matchup with the Los Angeles Angels.
He’s part of an athletic, young core headlined by Wiggins that Saunders hopes to mold into a perennial playoff participant. The vision of LaVine running along one wing with Wiggins on another and Ricky Rubio directing traffic is an intriguing one, to be sure.
But LaVine will have to earn his way into the fold.
Currently, veteran Kevin Martin is ahead of him at the shooting guard spot. And Rubio and 2014 free-agent pickup Mo Williams appear to be Saunders’ preferred two-deep rotation at the point, with LaVine assuming only mop-up duty.
But that might not be the worst thing for his long-term development. Easing into the NBA will allow him to grow and develop more than throwing him into the flames from Day 1.
He needs to add some muscle, too, if he hopes to get to the rim like he did at the amateur levels. Increasing his 180-pound weight will surely be a focus for the Wolves’ training staff this season.
Quotable: "I don’t like doubters. I don’t want to come off as cocky or arrogant in any way; I’m a really down-to-earth person. I don’t want to put myself on a pedestal above anybody else, but I know I put the work in and I know what I’ve done in the gym, so I’m confident in my talents."