Zach LaVine will always be a curious player for Timberwolves fans, as well as the most direct connection to the Flip Saunders era. LaVine was Flip’s guy when he was chosen as a “home run pick” in 2014, spent on a player whose lone season of a collegiate career was an uninspired time playing off the bench.
We are all familiar with the usual beats of this story, from Zach’s heralded work ethic to his disastrous spell as a point guard during the majority of his playing time in his first two years in the NBA. After of which was followed by the move to starting shooting guard and now LaVine has proven his worth as a red-hot flamethrower who can score in bunches.
LaVine’s scoring ability has been especially important to the Wolves due to his efficiency on three-pointers, which he has shot a ridiculous 44 percent on since the All-Star Break last year. If he kept that pace up for an entire year, that would have been good for the 4th highest three-point percentage in the league in 2015-2016.
In the eight games he has played this year, LaVine is averaging 19.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. While his assists are down from his career average, which is likely due to the move away from point guard, his other numbers are career highs, including his 56.4 effective field goal percentage.
Simply put, LaVine is an offensive supernova that can explode any game, which we most recently against Orlando when he put up 37 points on 7-9 on three-pointers.
However, as has been recently noted by Britt Robson, LaVine still struggles to put all the pieces together on the defensive end of the court. This is reflected in his hilariously skewed advanced stats, which also reflect the small sample size of course and the blowout win against the Memphis JV squad, of 4.6 Offensive BPM and -3.7 Defensive BPM.
LaVine has noticeably improved, at least anecdotally, as an on-ball defender, which he always shown flashes of success with, but sustainable team defensive concepts still elude him. Now, this is not an issue that is LaVine’s alone. Almost the entire Timberwolves’ team has had struggles in this early season, which can be attributed in part to youth and inexperience with implementing a new scheme.
The Timberwolves’ “Big Three” in terms of their young talent, of which LaVine is part of along with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, all have had their foibles on defense, even if their athleticism implies that they should excel in that department. It is certainly significant that we can consider LaVine even part of that trio, as his first year in the NBA looked more like an athletic phenom who would never be able to put it all together to perhaps even make an NBA roster.
Unfortunately, on a long-term basis, it is still slightly troubling that the foundation of the Wolves’ core all have the same problem.defense. This is why the Wolves’ brought on the heralded defensive guru Tom Thibodeau to run the operation, as last year the team demonstrated that they were not going to lack for firepower on the offensive end. It was also certainly unlikely that the Wolves would be able to reflect the supposed defensive greatness that has been imagined upon them so early in the season, as they are still an extraordinarily young team.
LaVine may act as a microcosm for this future success. As if he is able to take a step forward on defense, his value on the court will exponentially skyrocket due to his superior offensive skills. This hypothesis will also hold true for Wiggins and Towns.
Whatever does end up happening with LaVine, one thing we can know for certain is that the late Flip Saunders certainly had the right name written down in his pocket. Flip saw something in Zach, imagining the possibility of the future that we all get to experience