Zach LaVine: Slam Dunk Champion and guy who holds the key to the Wolves Future Chris Kosiak

By on February 16, 2016

The NBA All Star Festivities have become a must watch event during the last few years. Some might argue they always have been and to that I’d say you’re wrong and move on. But over the last 2 seasons I’ve had a resurgence of love and interest in the Association! That is all because of Flip Saunders and the trade of Kevin Love, the addition of Andrew Wiggins, as well as Zach LaVine. There is another guy they’ve since added to the mix, but more about him later.

Minnesota Timberwolves Zach LaVine 2016 slam dunk contest champ reverses the rock through the iron Saturday Night at Air Canada Centre. (photo Peter Llewellyn / USA TODAY Sports)

Minnesota Timberwolves’ Zach LaVine, the 2016 slam dunk contest champ, reverses the rock through the iron Saturday Night at the Air Canada Centre. (photo Peter Llewellyn / USA TODAY Sports)

To me LaVine was a draft night steal in the NYC! The draft of 2014 was loaded and is showing that night after night as these young guns have become faces of franchises and key cogs in their respective teams’ futures. But in LaVine’s case he became an overnight YouTube sensation after last February’s slam dunk contest victory. Don’t remember just go look the dunk contest up after you finish this article. I knew who he was long before draft night because I am an avid College Hoops fan and my DVR is cluttered with games from the last 2 seasons in the NCAA Tourney and regular seasons.

Zach was underutilized at UCLA and with good reason, he was just figuring out how to be an actual basketball player and not just an athlete. He’d have incredible dunks and slashing drives but then he’d make you slap face to palm on a pass he’d throw into the Bruin Cheer Squad. But let’s be honest if you’ve seen the Bruin Spirit Squad you understand! Nonetheless Coach Steve Alford was probably keeping his minutes down because he wanted another season of LaVine in Westwood! I know if I was Alford I would have wanted the same. But once the young buck from Seattle put his name in the draft it was full steam ahead. He’s worked out with many of the Pacific Northwest’s finest such as LA Clipper Jamal Crawford. On draft night 2014 Zach was probably expecting to go to a west coast team, maybe the Lakers at 7, or Kings at 8 but never expected to drop from the top 10. He did fall and much to the delight of Minnesota Coach and Team President Flip Saunders. Flip said in the post draft press conference he called Zach the “best athlete in the draft” as well as calling him a “gym rat” which I mean there is a lot of “coach speak” in there but you could tell in Flip’s face he was extremely excited to add LaVine to the Timberwolves Organization.

In his first pro season LaVine got off to a slow start as many rookies do and especially ones who are 18 or 19 years old. But as guys who are quick twitch athletes they have a quicker learning curve and once he figured some things out at the NBA level he took off. Literally, took off! He’s an absolute freak athlete and maybe the best I’ve seen in a Timberwolves uniform. KG was a freak but in other ways, LaVine is a freak in that he floats through the air and dunks it so hard that it’s kind of silly to watch. The young wolf pup finished his rookie season with respectable averages of 10.1 points, 2.8 boards, and 3.6 assists. Yes on a pretty bad team but he got to play and play quite a bit. He got the… he’s to fail a lot, turn it over a lot, miss open shots, miss guarded shots, miss defensive rotations, box outs, etc, etc. But he also got to learn and grow with expectations. He got to run with that Wiggins guy whom the Wolves got in the Love trade. I feel that could be the worst trade in the NBA in the last 10 years, but only time will tell. Zach got to grow up a lot and he’s said as much since last season to this one. But his highlight of the season was winning the NBA Slam Dunk Championship in Brooklyn.

He came out with the Quad City DJ’s and they got the crowd going with the “Space Jam” theme song and Zach brought the house down with his Space Jam inspired dunk and was wearing the Jordan jersey from the Toon Squad! LaVine gave the entire Association and millions watching at home the bitter beer face on every one of his successful and jaws dropping throw downs. The kid had the Barclay’s Center eating out of the palm of his hand and every Minnesota Timberwolves fan sitting at home or in an adult establishment having an adult beverage was suddenly excited to be a Wolves fan again. It was cool to rock your KG jersey to games again (then they traded him back to Minny a week later) it was cool to wear your retro Wolves hats and shirts in public. The belief in the streets of Minneapolis was that this team was finally pointed in the right direction. Not since Kevin Garnett had worn all his emotions nightly on his sleeve had Wolves fans had much to cheer about. Zach LaVine was a huge reason for that.

August 23, 2014 the Minnesota Timberwolves sent disgruntled Kevin Love to Cleveland in a huge deal that brought Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, and Thaddeus Young to Minny. The Wolves also sent Alexey Shevd and Luc Richard Mbah Moute to Philly to complete the trade. This was the first day since KG was traded to Boston following the 2007 season that I as a Timberwolves fan got actually excited about an upcoming season. In full disclosure Kevin Garnett is my favorite player of All Time and as an average to slightly above average High School player I tried to emulate KG in a lot of ways. Nope I couldn’t jump like Kevin; I could jump over the local phone book but only barely. I had and still have a lot of emotions when it comes to basketball and would let them show nightly. Well because KG did and damnit I wanted to be like KG. I held myself to a high standard; I went to the gym every morning at 6:50 for workouts and pickup games. I got to practice early to shoot, stayed late to shoot. I knew I had to do this to play. But I also did this because I’d read that is how KG conducted business and that is how I was going to conduct my business. Enough about me channeling my inner KG in the Tri-River and SWIAC conferences in Southern Indiana. This is about Andrew Wiggins and how he is shaping the Wolves into almost must see TV.

Wiggins played at Kansas, a blue blood of college hoops. The Jayhawks and their Head Coach Bill Self win 30 games pretty much every season and have also won an astounding 11 consecutive Big 12 Conference Regular Season Titles. So when Wiggins signed up to go to Lawrence the College Basketball world paid attention. I have always watched KU hoops and love and respect everything about the history of the building, the campus, and the former players. So Naturally I’m really excited to see Andrew in Lawrence and in the Big 12. He like many other of today’s “One and done” college players had his ups and downs. He looked the part; he made jaw dropping plays, and also some head scratching ones. Sounds a lot like Zach LaVine doesn’t it? Yeah they were both in college for about 9 months, so ya… mistakes happen. Wiggins was so hyped coiming into College that he really couldn’t have lived up to it. He was called the next LeBron, the next Kobe, etc, etc. It’s the same thing saddling young star Ben Simmons at LSU this year. Wiggins lead the Jayhawks but he doesn’t have that “In your face” leadership style like Kobe or LeBron. Wiggins was content to be one of the guys at times and took a back seat to other players such as Joel Embiid whom the Philadelphia 76ers drafted 3rd overall the same year Wiggins went 1st and LaVine went 13. The Jayhawks went to the NCAA Tournament and like many teams that Self has led at Kansas, they were a favorite to cut the nets down and win it all. Problem was they ran into a tough, older squad in Stanford in the 2nd round and poof the career of Wiggins was done. He then got to listen to how over hyped he was, and how he wasn’t ready for the next level. But ready or, not here he comes! Wiggins prepared himself for the NBA Draft and mentally had prepared himself to become the #1 pick of the bottom dwelling Cleveland Cavs. When LeBron took his talents to South Beach he also took all the wins! So Wiggins and Kyrie Irving were going to be the next dynamic duo in the NBA. But one problem with that was LeBron James was a Free Agent and decided after draft night he was packing his talents up and returning to Cleveland with 2 NBA championships. Now GM LeBron was assembling a title contender and young Andrew didn’t fit into LeBron’s plan. He was working on bringing Kevin Love out of Minnesota and into Cleveland to play alongside him and Kyrie and form the newest “Big 3” in the NBA. Wiggins was going to be an understudy in Cleveland and get little responsibility and watch a lot of LBJ and Kyrie going 1 on 1 late in games. So in being dealt to the Wolves, Wiggins was given the greatest gift of all, the chance to form his identity in a place where they have been longing for someone to do so since July of 2007.

The wolves struggled through the 2014-15 season and lost the most games in the NBA. The team was crushed by injuries in losing starting PG Ricky Rubio and starting C Nikola Pekovic as well as almost everyone else for long stretches of the season. The young pups got to take their lumps together and laugh, cry, and oh ya got beat together. But the mastermind that was Flip Saunders saw this next piece that was starring at Kentucky in Karl Anthony-Towns.

Towns is 6’11 or 6’12 if you listen to Town’s personal coach Kevin Garnett. Towns looked the part, but at UK he was only averaging 20 mins a night due to the incredible log jam of talent the Wildcats head man John Calipari had assembled. Once the college season was over in April of 2015 Flip set out to add Karl to the mix in Minnesota and with a little luck the Wolves won the NBA Draft Lottery and in my head at least welcomed KAT to the Wolves family. This young core is an up and coming juggernaut and if you listen to the greats around the Association and Coaches present and past. They all say this Minnesota Timberwolves team is going to be an absolute terror in a couple years. Every great NBA champion team in recent memory had at least 2 superstar players on the roster but was also stocked with great role players. The All Time Teams all have 3 superstar players. The way the NBA is working lately is these guys take less money in Free Agency to go play together in one city such as Miami. The Wolves however are growing their own talent from the ground up. Wiggins is a potential superstar the likes of Kobe Bryant (Kobe made that comparison, I didn’t’) KAT could potentially be the next Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan type guy who can play inside and out. My personal favorite of the trio forming in Minneapolis is Zach LaVine. I feel he holds the key to the future of the T-Wolves. If Zach becomes the player I think he can be, he won’t be the best player on this team but he might well be the most important player on his team. His mix of athleticism and potential as an outside bomber make him a matchup nightmare. Oh ya and all three of the young pups in Minnesota play defense at a high level. Of the baby big three forming in Minneapolis, LaVine is the most unrefined of the trio. He has elite and I mean elite athleticism. Watch the Slam Dunk Contest last night in Toronto? Ya he showed out once again! Zach and Orlando Magic 2nd year forward Aaron Gordon absolutely stole the show last night in one of the greatest dunk contests in history. I’d say it’s slightly behind MJ vs. Dominique but just barely. But LaVine sometimes shows his lack of basketball IQ on curious passes and shot selection. But then he comes back a possession or two later and crosses over a top tier NBA defender and draws help and drops a dime to Towns or Wiggins. He has the ability and appears to have the drive to not just be a Slam Dunk champion but one day be a key cog in the Minnesota Timberwolves championship runs!

The sky is the limit in Minneapolis and for the first time in 9 years the fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves have a product that is worth watching, rooting for, and paying money to go see! The Eyes are most definitely on the rise in Minneapolis, Minnesota!

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