Zach LaVine: Ready Or Not, Here He Comes

Dane Mizutani
Web Editorial Associate

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Zach LaVine quickly became a fan favorite with dunks like this …

... and like this ...

... in the months leading up to the season. 

He’ll have to show much more than just a few flashes of athletic brilliance over the course of the next month or so. 

LaVine, viewed as a raw talent that would benefit from a season of watching players like Ricky Rubio and Mo Williams from the bench, is about to be baptized by fire. Rubio injured his left ankle on Friday night and is out indefinitely with a significant sprain. Williams, on the other hand, is a 31-year-old with a lot of mileage on his legs.  That leaves LaVine as the next man up with a lot of minutes to fill.

Wolves coach Flip Saunders turned to LaVine against the Miami Heat on Saturday night, and with that the wide-eyed 19-year-old was thrust into the spotlight. LaVine played 25 minutes against the Heat, and while Williams finished the game down the stretch, it’s clear Saunders will lean on the rookie quite a bit with Rubio out.

Saunders said he decided that he was going to start LaVine after the game Rubio went down with the injury.

“Zach is part of what our future is,” Saunders said. “There is no better time to let him go out and sometimes it’s easier to put a guy in that situation on the road because he doesn’t have the pressure of the home crowd and everyone else expecting him to do a lot. He was going to be with our main guys. I thought that was better than him coming in with the second unit where he might have thought he had to do too much.”

As his name echoed over the speakers during player introductions at American Airlines Arena on Saturday night, LaVine became the first Wolves rookie to start at point guard since Rubio in the 2011-12 season. LaVine didn’t disappoint as he finished with 5 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists, to go along with only 2 turnovers.

“He played great,” Shabazz Muhammad said. “He ran the team, looked up in transition, ran his seams. He’s going to be a really good player. … He was really smart out there and didn’t force anything.  That is one thing I’ve been telling him and he’s been really doing it.”

Wolves veteran guard Kevin Martin said it’s going to be “a long, long process” with Rubio out of the equation for the foreseeable future, though he said he was impressed with the way LaVine performed in his first career start.

“It’s the most pivotal position on the court and he runs the show now,” Martin said. “He did a great job. We also have to realize he is 19 years old. We have to find some chemistry with him and just see how it goes.”

It going pretty well so far in the eyes of Saunders.

“He did a pretty good job for his first extended time in the NBA in a situation where he didn’t have a practice to prepare,” Saunders said. “He brings you great pace in the game. As he gets more comfortable … and becomes a decision maker, his minutes may get extended. We didn’t want to give him too much to quick and overload him too much. … Zach is a confident player. He didn’t shy away from the bright lights of the stage.”

LaVine never has and it’s safe to assume he’s not about to start now.

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