For the first time in a long time, the Minnesota Timberwolves are relevant. What makes them so isn’t due to any particular success as of late, but because of their darling possession of one of the most attractive young cores of the future. The youngest team in the NBA features the 2014 no. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, two-time Sprite Slam Dunk champion Zach LaVine, and 2016 Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns.
At the rate each of these guys is progressing, Minnesota could assumedly have a contending Big 3 in the years to come. But in their premature rise, the Timberwolves franchise will still need to overcome their perceived curse — the idea that top-tier players simply won’t stick around.
In this particular case, if I’m thinking about one of these young players possibly outgrowing the franchise, my top candidate would be Zach LaVine.
That isn’t a knock on LaVine, either. On the contrary, I believe he has the ability to become scarier than Wiggins or Towns. It’s that potential which leads me to think he might blossom even more aggressively in a different environment. It’s also what would make him an enticing trade piece if the Timberwolves decided to focus on building strictly around Wiggins and Towns.
LaVine being on his rookie contract makes things especially interesting for his situation, as the 20-year-old is currently averaging 20 points per game with a base salary of $2.2 million. Now in his third season, LaVine’s scoring average has increased +10 since his rookie year, while seeing steady improvements in his field goal and three-point percentages and getting himself to the free throw line more often. Meanwhile, his usage rate has remained about the same since his rookie season (around 22-23 percent).
Though there hasn’t been any legitimate indication of the Timberwolves wanting to trade LaVine, his rapid development will eventually force them to make a decision. LaVine can become a restricted free agent in 2018 when he’ll be 23 years old. If he continues to elevate his ability, Minnesota could be challenged to match a significant offer. Regardless, we’re going to find out how much this franchise values LaVine for their future.
While his high-flying antics in the dunk contest have popularized him, if you’ve watched LaVine enough, he’s way past the stereotype of a freak athlete who’s only good for dunk highlights. His game is clearly driven by his athletic ability, but he’s developing the mindset of a pure scoring threat. He went for a career-high of 40 points last month against Sacramento. Any 20-year-old who can get 40 in an NBA game has figured something out.
With more time and experience, LaVine only appears more capable. In one sense I do think the best trajectory for his career would be in Minnesota with Wiggins and Towns, but I also believe that at this rate he could instigate an opportunity to experiment with his talent in an environment where he’s treated as more of a focal point. We still don’t know if LaVine can emerge into a team’s no. 1 option. If so or if not, he still has time to prove that. I believe that when the time comes, depending on the circumstances, the opportunities will undeniably present themselves.