Timberwolves Select UCLA's Zach LaVine with the 13th Overall Pick in the 2014 NBA Draft

by Mark Remme
Web Editor
@markremme

Wolves coach Flip Saunders was looking for someone in Thursday’s NBA Draft that can create offensively, get to the basket and get open on the floor. And even though Minnesota’s front office had a few players they valued highly at No. 13 heading into Draft night, there was one on Thursday morning Saunders hoped would be there when the Timberwolves went on the clock.

Fortunately for Saunders and the Wolves, UCLA guard Zach LaVine was there. And they snatched him up.

“This morning I took a piece of paper, put his name down and hoped he would be there,” Saunders said. Fortunately, he was there.”

LaVine shot up Draft boards thanks to his athleticism, vertical testing and strong shooting/overall performance at the NBA Combine in Chicago last month. He’s a player that  Minnesota hopes can log minutes at the 2 and the 1, and his explosiveness as an athlete in this year’s Draft rivals the field. Saunders said on Minnesota’s big board, LaVine was viewed as the seventh best on the table. It just so happens he fell to Minnesota at 13.

During his lone year at UCLA, LaVine spent most of his time complementing Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson as a reserve on the wing. But his athleticism and upside both helped him stand out during his minutes with the Bruins, and his “gym-rat” mentality—a common term when referring to former UCLA athletes—shined through for Saunders and the Wolves’ front office.

As did LaVine’s mindset on and off the court.

LaVine is 19 years old, and he has a lot of room to grow professionally and physically. And Saunders said in his interview sessions, LaVine provided an engaged personality that was absorbing what the Wolves said and their vision for the future. Saunders said LaVine has the ability to be the total package, and much of it will have to do with how Minnesota helps him develop along the way.

During his one season with the Bruins, LaVine averaged 9.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game while earning Pac 12 All-Freshman honors. He shot 37.8 percent from 3-point range and scored in double figures in 17 contests—including nine of his first 10 games.

Now, the Wolves will look forward to helping him grow off that base. The intriguing part of LaVine’s development is how the Wolves can use him in the back court either as the 2-guard, a combo guard across from Ricky Rubio—including a nice option for receiving dishes at the rim—or possibly working as the primary ball handler in some sets.

“I think he’ll play well with Ricky,” Saunders said. “One, he’s a highlight reel. Ricky loves to throw lob passes, and he’ll have no one better to throw to than him. By the time he’s done, you know he’s probably going to be about 6-foot-7, and he can take some pressure off Ricky bringing the ball up.”

Lots of options for a player the Wolves looked at as being one of their top choices.

“Athletically, he’s the best athlete in the Draft,” Saunders said. 

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