Saturday afternoon, the basketball world was delivered some grim news. The fan favorite shooting guard, Zach Lavine, had torn his ACL and was out for the season. Lavine burst on the scene his rookie year when was crowned the Sprite Dunk Contest champion, and would repeat the feat the next year. His dunks were known all over the world, and he was victorious in last year’s epic duel between him and Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic. While known predominantly as a dunker and source of entertainment his rookie and sophomore years, the rest of Zach Lavine’s game started to show up too. He averaged 18.9 points on 46-39-84 shooting splits. In particular, Zach Lavine’s month of December gave us all a look of what he’s truly capable of. He averaged 23 points per game on 49-47(!!!!)-85 shooting splits.
As it may be easy to see, Zach Lavine’s scoring, his 3 point shot especially, was most impressive this year. However, his scoring won’t be the only loss for the Wolves. Lavine played the most minutes on the team and the 3rd most in the league. It’s hard to replace the most used player in your rotation, and perhaps the most key. If you don’t watch Timberwolve games, you may not be aware the Zach Lavine is the starter that Thibs runs with the bench unit for long periods of time. That lineup is one of only two lineups to play over 80 minutes this season and have a positive net rating. Lavine’s ability to play off-ball allows the second unit to succeed when they really should not be. Cole Aldrich, Nemanja Bjelica, and Kris Dunn have all had disappointing seasons yet this lineup still works game in and game out. Thibs will surely have to mix up his rotations a bit because Zach Lavine’s replacement, Brandon Rush, is not nearly well suited enough fill Lavine’s hole in that second unit lineup. When Lavine’s season ending injury was announced, many Wolves fans tried to find a silver lining in all this. When Lavine had missed two games earlier in the year with an injury, the Wolves had managed to beat the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder. Neither of those teams are rollovers and the Timberwolves surprisingly played some of their best basketball without Lavine. Wolves fans thought maybe the Wolves would be alright without Lavine, while it is only a 1 game sample size, last night against Memphis disproves that notion. The bench unit struggled massively without Lavine and his scoring was visibly missed against a defensively sound Memphis team. The bench blew an 18 point lead and the result was another frustrating loss for the Timberwolves, they were lucky Denver lostthough. Wait a second, why? Because, the Timberwolves are actually competing for a playoff spot this year, I know right, crazy. They’re only 3.5 games out of the playoffs and had a very realistic chance of winning that 8 seed. That was before Lavine went down though, any playoff hope essentially died when Lavine’s ACL tore.
For the Wolves, it’s time to start looking towards next year, where if everything goes smooth, should contain some playoff action for the Wolves. It would’ve been awesome to make it this year, but let’s remember Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach Lavine are all just 21 years old. There isabsolutely no rush to make the playoffs this year. However, if the Wolves want to put their future in the best position possible, they must do a few things. When the Wolves drafted Kris Dunn this year, it was obvious he was going to be their point guard of the future. However, he became a backup to Ricky Rubio, who was much better suited for a legit playoff run. Dunn has struggled this year, but has looked good in flashes, and particularly in games he has started. While he may be enough to get the Wolves to the playoffs next year, Rubio will never make the Wolves an actual championship contender. Dunn at least has the potential to. The Wolves should start shopping Rubio on the market even more agressively than they were before. The point guard market is not a grand one right now, but there are still some teams that could use Ricky’s services. The Wolves should look for a team with a rim protector, as they sorely lack good interior defense. The 76ers Nerlens Noel is a prime target for the Wolves. Noel has been stuck on the butt end of a front-court log jam for the 76ers, and he is openly on the trade market. Rubio is young-ish (26), and is easily better than both Philly’s point guards, Sergio Rodriguez and T.J. Mconnell. It’s no doubt worth an offer, both teams would benefit from this trade. The 76ers would get a good defensive guard who’s an elite passer, while the Wolves would get an elite interior defender and free up minutes for Kris Dunn and 20 year old Tyus Jones. Losing Lavine is tough for the Wolves, but everyone knows he will come back stronger than before. It’s the Timberwolves that have to make sure, they make the best out of this unfortunate situation.