While the world continued to wait for LeBron James’ next Decision, Timberwolves fans in Minneapolis stepped away from Adrian Wojnarowski’s Twitter account for 90 minutes of intrasquad scrimmage. The Wolves invited fans to watch the summer league roster run up and down for [just shy of] three quarters of loosely-regulated, but pretty intense basketball. Eyes inevitably fixed on high flyer Zach LaVine, the team’s latest lottery pick. But Shabazz Muhammad and Alexey Shved also logged big minutes. So did rookie Glenn Robinson III. Gorgui Dieng did not (illness).
Here are a few notes. I shouldn’t have to say that any praise — or criticism, really — comes with the caveat that this was a team scrimmage in July; one replete with players that will never play a second of *real* NBA action. Tonight was about seeing what guys looked like in the truest “eye test” form.
A few brief observations:
* Might as well start with LaVine. His athleticism is at least as impressive as advertised. He catches an outlet pass and motors up the middle of the floor, much the way his UCLA predecessor Russell Westbrook does in Oklahoma City. We all hope he learns how to attack the basket as aggressively as Russ does. LaVine played both guard positions. I liked that he did not let the ball stop in his possession very much. He kept it moving. It didn’t stick. LaVine can get a not-terrible shot whenever he wants, and that’s a skill that sometimes is a young player’s worst enemy rather than best friend. But he did not force many bad shots. He played mostly within himself. LaVine jumps unbelievably high and he does it with ease. He’s not a “slow jumper” the way (again, fellow Bruin alums) Kevin Love and Shabazz Muhammad are. He spun past a defender and — without any hesitation — flew way up above the rim for a huge dunk. LaVine’s athleticism has as much to do with grace as it does raw measurements.
LaVine’s weaknesses include, well, his physical weakness. He’s skinny as a rail and will get bullied for at least one NBA season. Another is, I’m guessing, defensive awareness. Most NBA rookies struggle with their assignments and help rotations. I don’t anticipate young Zach being an exception to this rule. I also wonder if he has an NBA caliber jumpshot, when left wide open. One last positive: I liked how he paced his cuts, off the ball. More than once they tried to set up lobs for him, and he did a nice job of walking his man in one direction before boosting back hard toward the rim. It’s a small thing, but one that might signal some basic athletic instincts that could lead to improvement in other areas.
* Shabazz Muhammad looks about the same, and I mean that in a pretty good way, all things considered. He was really strong on the interior, fighting for rebounds like it was the NBA Finals. He continues to look for his lefty hook on 80+ percent of scoring attempts. He also makes it with great frequency. I wish he trusted his square-up jumper more. He made one or two jumpers, but did the majority of his work on or around the block with his hook shot. He also drew fouls when attacking the glass. Shabazz should produce points and rebounds this season. I think he’ll get minutes on this team. To defend starting wings, he needs to get leaner and quicker. Notwithstanding some reports suggesting that Muhammad has dropped 7 or 8 pounds, he looked the same to me. (Though I wasn’t sitting very close.) But he’s still a bull around the basket and will bother certain types of opponents.
* Alexey Shved doesn’t look the same, but that’s just because he cut his hair. Shved, like LaVine, played both guard spots. He looks about the same. You watch him and want to see Penny Hardaway. But you… don’t. Shved got bailed out by the refs more than will happen in real games. Too often he ends up stuck under the basket with nowhere to run. Or hide. Or shoot. Or pass. (I’m probably exaggerating the negative here. I just didn’t see anything to suggest improvement. Who knows.)
* The “other” rookie, Glenn Robinson III, was pretty quiet, though I think he ended up with about 10 points. Much like a lot of his games at Michigan, you didn’t really notice he was there. He has a great, Wesley Johnson-esque, NBA wing body, and that counts for something. He might be able to defend 2, 3, or even 4 positions, someday. What I liked most about GR3 was that his shooting form is hitch free. It has a nice, quick rhythm to it, where he uses his legs and wrist more than any whacky arm motion. I take that as a sign that he can develop three-point range over time, if he doesn’t already have it. The more I think about it, Robinson III could be a Wes Johnson type of player, which is better value at 40 than 4, when you’re drafting. He had a pretty sick 360 dunk when they were goofing around after the scrimmage.
* Might as well wrap this up with the #WojBomb from this afternoon, regarding a big potential Kevin Love trade:
There has been steadily building momentum in the (social) media for the proposition that King James is returning to Cleveland. If that happens, the Cavs will naturally be thinking “win now.” And thinking “win now,” would presumably include a preference for All-NBA Olympians like Kevin Love over young players like Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett.
Wolves fans should be cheering on a LeBron return to Cleveland. It presents a pretty unbelievable opportunity to get value back for K-Love in a scenario where they lack leverage.
James apparently met with Pat Riley today, but has not made a Decision yet.