Basketball / Sports

Timberwolves newcomers will be running with Rubio

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders apparently has taken a win-now approach when it comes to discussions concerning trading away three-time All Star Kevin Love.

But when it came to June's NBA draft, Saunders clearly took a patient, long-term approach when he selected UCLA freshman guard Zach LaVine 13th overall, and to a far lesser extent, Michigan sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III with the 40th overall pick.

What Saunders did do, though, with both picks is choose athletes who can jump and run with playmaking point guard Ricky Rubio, whether Love is part of the franchise's future when training camp opens in October or not.

"I do think we're here for a purpose," Robinson said.

Both LaVine and Robinson continued on that purposeful path Monday, when each started four days of summer-league workouts at Target Center before the Wolves team of mostly recent draft picks and free agents departs for Las Vegas and games that begin there Saturday.

For the next two weeks, LaVine and Robinson will receive passes from Wolves third-year guard Alexey Shved as well as free agents Brady Heslip from Baylor and Markel Starks from Georgetown. (Shved's Summer League presence is, in essence, an audition for the team's backup point guard spot.)

Come October, they will be running with Ricky.

Saunders didn't exactly say LaVine and Robinson both were chosen exactly for that purpose.

But he did say this: "We specifically wanted to upgrade our athleticism."

LaVine can see the plan clearly now.

"I can definitely see that now, us being two dudes on the break who can run, we can jump and we can also spot-up and shoot and create our own shot as well," he said. "I could see myself running the lane, not knowing who he is going to pass to and then the ball's going to be in the air and it's up for grabs as to who is going to dunk it.

"You're always going to need to be looking for passes everywhere. He has eyes in the back of his head. I know he's going to be exciting to play with."

The Wolves currently also have veterans Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger and second-year swingman Shabazz Muhammad who can run the floor with Rubio, but Saunders seems to consider his two new rookies a bit in their own category.

"Their ability to run with Ricky, we don't really have a lot of players like them," Saunders said. "In order to become a good team, you have to become a melting pot. When you look at (NBA champion) San Antonio, they don't all do the same things. Someone brings something different to the table. We wanted to become a little more diversified in our abilities and that's what these two guys brought."

LaVine and Robinson each have a Synergy Sports computer account that allows them to watch possession by possession footage of any game they've or any of their new teammates have played.

LaVine said he plans to use his account access to study Rubio's moves.

"I've got to do scouting on my own team now," he said.

The day after he was drafted, Robinson said he used to that account to watch Rubio play and has seen him on television and YouTube highlights as well.

"I'm very excited to see him in person and how he operates," Robinson said. "Seeing how well he controls the offense and how well he can move the ball as a pass-first point guard, I'm really looking forward to that connection. I see a lot of highlights coming soon."

Robinson said he believes both he and LaVine can help the Wolves "speed the tempo up a little bit" with the Rubio running the show with the ball in his hands.

He said the many possibilities are up for Saunders, also the team's new coach, to decide.

"Who knows?" Robinson said of those possibilities. "That will be his job to figure out."

(c)2014 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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