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Timberwolves get more athletic in draft, bring in rookies who can run with Rubio

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MINNEAPOLIS - Before the summer is over, the Minnesota Timberwolves could part ways with the face of their franchise, a move that would bring about an immediate shift in the team's identity.

If Kevin Love is shipped out, the Timberwolves will move from an offencecentred on his versatility and shot-making to one built around point guard Ricky Rubio's passing and transition game. The moves the Timberwolves made on draft night could make that transition easier.

The Wolves grabbed UCLA guard Zach LaVine in the first round and Michigan forward Glenn Robinson III in the second round, two super-athletic players who excel on the fast break and play above the rim.

The two youngsters — LaVine a one-and-done and Robinson a Wolverine for two seasons — have a lot to learn as they make the jump to the NBA. But they already know exactly what to do when Rubio grabs a loose ball and starts gliding up the court, and team president and coach Flip Saunders thinks that makes them the perfect fit for Minnesota.

"Their ability to run with Ricky, we don't really have a lot of players like them," Saunders said Friday. "In order to become a good team, you have to become a melting pot. When you look at 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, who is from the Seattle suburb of Bothell, spent one season at UCLA and drew raves for his highlight-reel dunks and quick first step in the half-court offence. But he did have trouble getting consistent minutes with on a loaded Bruins team and only averaged 9.4 points per game. Scouts wonder about his ability to absorb the complex offensive sets he will have to learn under Saunders, but the coach thinks LaVine's ability to handle the ball, elevate on his jump shot and get to the basket make him much more than just an athletic wing player.

"The one thing, especially in Zach's case, that we spoke about was we really didn't have a player that can go get a basket," GM Milt Newton said. "He has the ability to do that. Take his man off the dribble and get to the basket, get to the free throw line."

Last year the Wolves offence revolved around Love's ability to stretch the defence with a 3-pointer and score on put-backs around the basket and Nikola Pekovic's punishing moves in the low post.

The team's composition made them more of a half-court team, except for when Love would fling outlet passes to Corey Brewer to pick up the pace. When they traded Derrick Williams early in the season, the team parted with the only player who consistently had success with Rubio in alley-oop situations.

When considering the possibilities of being on the break with the Spaniard, LaVine's eyes lit up.

"I could see myself running the lane not knowing who he's 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," LaVine said. "You're always going to need to be looking for passes. He has eyes in the back of his head. I know he's going to be exciting to play with."

Saunders was quick to point out that he sees both LaVine and Robinson, the son of former NBA standout Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson, as more than just athletes on the court.

"I think that it's a little bit that goes unnoticed because of their athleticism because it's through the roof, but they're skilled players," Saunders said. "Both have the ability to shoot. ... You can look at their ability to handle the ball.

"Their main thing is going to be to continue to keep on improving. When you have 19-year-olds that are athletic and skilled and are willing to work as they said before, that's really half the battle."


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