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Youngblood: LaVine impressive in Wolves' workout

  • Blog Post by: Kent Youngblood
  • July 8, 2014 - 4:56 PM

It is a small sampling size. The Wolves only open the doors to the media for the final few minutes of each practice. So you have to be careful not to over-analyze anything.

But it was still hard not to be impressed with the speed rookie guard Zach LaVine possesses. The Wolves summer team roster met for its first workout Monday evening. It was an intense, fast-paced, run-their-legs-off workout that ended with a scrimmage.

Sitting on the sidelines at the team’s workout facility, it was impossible to miss LaVine’s speed. End to end in a flash, even with the ball in his hands. Afterwards both teammates and coaches were raving about him, including head coach Flip Saunders, who – as president of basketball operations – took LaVine with the 13th overall pick in last month’s draft.

“I thought LaVine was exceptional today,” Saunders said. “He has an unbelievable feel for the game. He has speed, but he also knows how to play. How he finds people, his passing ability. He’s got a great feel for the game.’’

He’s also got a great confidence for it, too.

There were some who thought taking LaVine, a 19-year-old coming off an up-and-down freshman season at UCLA, was something of a reach. LaVine can run like the wind and jump out of the gym. But, critics said, he is raw and will need a lot of work.

Turns out LaVine, unlike many pro athletes, readily admits to reading everything written about him that he can find.  He knows what people are saying. So, when asked what his goals were for the upcoming NBA Summer League in Las Vegas – the Wolves’ entry plays its first game Saturday – this is what he said:

“Whenever I step on the court I want to be the best player,” LaVine said. “I have a lot of high goals for myself. There are still a lot of doubters out there. I read all of the things on Twitter. I keep those in my back pocket. I feel I turned a lot of heads since I came out (of college). I’ll still continue to do that.”

Again, it’s a short sample size, but LaVine played a lot of point guard Monday, and will do so in Vegas, too. After Monday’s workout Saunders said he had no question in his mind that LaVine could play both shooting guard and some at the point.

“The way he handles himself and handles the ball, no question he can play one,” Saunders said. “His understanding of what we want him to do, and how to play, to initiate the offense and be creative, there is no question.”

Of course, there are questions. How will LaVine, not a starter at UCLA, adapt to the NBA pace of play? How will his 185-pound body hold up the physical play? (He already knows he has to bulk up. But, as he said, “But if they can’t touch me, that’s a good thing as well.”)

Still, the confident LaVine is looking at Vegas as the starting point to a rookie season that he feels will be productive.

“I’m a confident person, so I feel I can come in and contribute right off the bat,” he said. “I’m not putting my talents below anybody else’s. I’m a competitor. I’m going to go out and do what I can do. Whoever says I can’t play, I’m going to try to turn their heads.”

The Wolves announced LaVine had signed his rookie deal. According to the 2014-15 NBA rookie salary scale, that suggests LaVine signed a three-year deal worth $5,370,000 with $1,713,200 coming in the first year.

Here are some other summer camp notes:

--LaVine and the rest of the Wolves summer league roster will play a scrimmage Wednesday night at Target Center that is open to the public. It starts at 7 p.m.

--Second-year player Shabazz Muhammad has lost about seven or eight pounds and has about eight more to lose before regular training camp begins this fall, according to Saunders. Muhammad, taken by Saunders in the first round last year, is looking for an increased role this season.

“Last year I thought I played pretty well,” he said. “Some said I could have gotten more minutes. Some said I shouldn’t. It’s all about playing hard and being a good teammate. Flip will take care of everything else.”

Muhammad missed the last few games of last season with a sprained MCL in his right knee. He said he returned to working out 100 percent about  a month ago.

--Saunders said center Gorgui Dieng has put on a lot of muscle as he prepares for his second season. “He’s gained a lot of weight and strength,” Saunders said.

--Veteran forward Chase Budinger, who was limited to just 41 games by injuries last season, is set to join the team today and start working out with the team. Budinger missed the first two months of last season after a second knee procedure, and missed the final few games with an ankle sprain. Budinger, who has seen injuries affect his past two seasons, is looking to get some competitive practicing in to get the confidence back in his health. Saunders said Budinger would travel to Las Vegas with the team. He likely won’t play in any games, but will continue to practice with the team.

© 2014 Star Tribune