Timberwolves second-year guard Zach LaVine calls himself something of a man —albeit a very young one — on a mission, just like last season.
And maybe the season before that and…
“I always have high expectations for myself,” he said. “I’m going to go out there doing the best I can to always turn heads and make doubters seem stupid. That’s what I try to do.”
A year ago, LaVine, by necessity, learned both the NBA and the complex point guard position during a rookie season when he received more playing time and learning lessons than he ever could have expected.
This season at age 20, he likely will primarily play shooting guard, from which he will be asked to defend and do what he thinks he does best: Go score.
“That’s me in my natural habitat, I guess,” LaVine said. “I’ve always felt I know how to score the ball. I haven’t had to think about it. Last year, I had to think about getting everybody else involved instead of looking for myself, and it just kind of threw me off in the beginning. Toward the end of the season, I started to get my rhythm. I feel comfortable at both positions now. I know what to do.”
He went away in the off-season and continued his practice-gym obsession, putting in enough work in the weight room and gym to come back with 10 more pounds of muscle and quite possibly a smoother shot.
LaVine weighs 190 pounds now and looks more defined through the chest and arms.
“I feel stronger, that’s the thing that matters,” LaVine said. “I look a little bit bigger, I guess. Gary Payton was wiry strong at 190. That’s me. I feel stronger. I can take contact.”
In Monday night’s free public scrimmage at Target Center, LaVine made the three-pointer and drove and passed as well, finding new teammates Damjan Rudez and Karl-Anthony Towns with nifty passes for layups during an 11-point, three-rebound, two-assist performance for the winning Black team.
“I’m just a lot more experienced,” LaVine said afterward. “My second year in, I know what’s going on. Everything’s not new to me. Training camp last year, everything was new. I didn’t know what was going on. I was getting hit by picks from dudes like Pek [teammate Nikola Pekovic] paralyzing my body.
“I feel good now. I worked out really hard this summer. I try to come out each year and get better. That’s what I feel I’ve been doing.”
Through training camp’s first week, LaVine has shown the speed and athleticism he displayed last season, when he won the NBA’s All-Star weekend slam dunk contest in Brooklyn.
“He’s just so fast,” teammate Shabazz Muhammad said. “When he’s playing the ‘1’ [point guard] and brings up the ball, he’s so fast. Even at the 2 [shooting guard], he’s so fast and athletic. To me, he has gotten faster.”
He’s faster, a year older and probably smarter, too.
“It really helped Zach having the ball in his hands and having to facilitate last year,” Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell said. “Being able to do both things this year is just going to help his growth. He can create a shot for himself, but he’s confident enough he can create a shot for his teammates. I tell you what: When he gets it going, he gets it going.”