Sam Mitchell understands.
The Timberwolves interim coach knows why the subject of where Zach LaVine gets his minutes — at point guard or shooting guard — continues to be a hot topic.
Heck, Mitchell was there Sunday at Phoenix, too. He saw what happened.
“He had 28 points in 25 minutes,” Mitchell said. “For a 20-year-old in his second year in the NBA. We can build on that.”
Of course, much of that production came with LaVine playing shooting guard. Playing there in the fourth quarter with veteran Andrew Miller at the point, LaVine scored 15 points in 12 minutes as the Wolves rallied from 21 down to within five.
And so you think: Why play LaVine anywhere but the off-guard spot?
It’s not quite that easy. Mitchell has roster constraints that have created something of a logjam at that position.
“We have Kevin Martin, who has to play,” Mitchell said. “We have Shabazz Muhammad, who has to play. And so, I understand when everybody is sitting there and tweeting and blogging about it. But come put my shoes on. It doesn’t work like that. We have a team. We have a cohesive locker room. And we have to keep it that way. Eventually, all this stuff gets worked out. Until it gets worked out, it’s my job to manage the minutes, manage the egos and keep everyone playing at as high a level as possible.”
There is no question LaVine is more comfortable playing off the ball. He’s only played at the point since coming to the Wolves. As a result, the Wolves offense is more efficient when LaVine is at the shooting guard spot.
But Mitchell remains convinced LaVine will benefit from having played the point. Which is why, in the short term, he will continue to get minutes there. The best-case scenario is that LaVine becomes proficient at it, giving the Wolves options going forward. At the very least LaVine will benefit from the experience.
“We’re trying to win games and we’re trying to develop,” Mitchell said. “I don’t know if we’re a playoff team or not. But what I want is, whenever we become a playoff team, we want to know we’re in the playoffs for the next six, seven, eight years.”
For LaVine? “That’s for everybody else,” he said of the point guard-shooting guard debate. “When I’m on the court I have to do my job. When I’m at the point I have to do the best thing I can. … I think I can develop into a really good point guard. I already know I can score the ball, but there are areas at the two guard I can develop as well. I feel I’m just a player; I get a little more strength I can play the three.”
LaVine has become known for that level of confidence, which is there on both bad nights and good. He always believes. “In myself? Oh, yeah,” he said, smiling. “I don’t know why, but yeah.”
As Mitchell said, the roster will work itself out. Rookie point guard Tyus Jones, in the middle of his Development League stint, might return and earn playing time.
The team likely will have a decision to make regarding the veteran Martin by the February trading deadline, either dealing him or extending his contract. But for now, LaVine will continue to play both point and off guard.
To Mitchell, LaVine, who didn’t play the point in high school or college, hasn’t played there enough to know, ultimately, what his potential there is. He compared a point guard to a quarterback, then noted how rarely rookie QBs shine. So, he said, give it time. For now, just call LaVine …
“A guard,” Mitchell said. “He’s a guard.”