Zach LaVine grew up in Seattle idolizing SuperSonics point guard Gary Payton.
When Timberwolves General Manager Milt Newton heard that, he put in a call to Payton, who happens to be good friends with Newton, asking if the Hall of Famer would be interested in talking with LaVine about the fine art of playing point guard.
Payton arrived in the Twin Cities on Thursday, was on the practice floor with the team Friday and will leave town Saturday. Payton wasn’t made available Thursday, but LaVine talked enthusiastically about the chance to work with his childhood idol. Three days, LaVine said, is plenty of time to learn from the likes of Payton.
“I feel you can pick up stuff fast, yes, from just talking to someone,” La Vine said after Thursday’s practice. “You don’t have to spend a lot of time with him. It’s not about the physical attributes, but the mental things are the biggest thing I look for.”
LaVine was coy about what he’s picked up from Payton — “I learned a lot, but I don’t know if I want to tell you secrets” — but it’s certain that the two talked defense. Payton was a nine-time first-team All-Defensive player during his 17-year career, and nicknamed “The Glove.”
“He told me it’s just a mentality, that’s the main thing,” LaVine said of Payton’s advice about defense. “You have to have heart.”
LaVine, in his second season, started training camp as the starting off guard. But that experiment didn’t survive the exhibition season, and LaVine opened the season backing up Ricky Rubio. But injuries to Rubio have increased LaVine’s playing time and production.
After averaging 10.1 points in 24.7 minutes as a rookie, LaVine is averaging 14.4 points in 25.3 minutes a game this season. LaVine has scored in double figures 13 straight games, during which time he’s averaged 17.0 points and 4.2 rebounds.
When Rubio is in the lineup, LaVine at times has been paired with him, especially in the fourth quarter.
Asked if he’s starting to see himself as a point guard, LaVine said: “I see myself as anything the coach puts me out there and wants me to be. I’ll try my best at all of them. At the end of the day, I know I can put the ball in the basket.”