Minnesota Timberwolves shooting guard Zach LaVine will sit out the rest of the 2016-17 season with a torn ACL. He left Friday night’s game versus the Detroit Pistons with an apparent knee injury. The news is devastating to the young team that is just 3.5 games out of the Western Conference playoffs. LaVine is considered the third piece of the Wolves young core that includes center Karl-Anthony Towns and small forward Andrew Wiggins.
A playoff berth would be a welcome accomplishment for the Wolves, who carry the NBA’s longest current postseason drought of 12 seasons. Injuries have plagued the team’s playoff hopes since the Kevin Love era. The Wolves were in playoff contention in the 2012-13 season, but Love’s broken fingers played a hand in the team’s misery.
LaVine averaged 18.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.0 assists in 47 games this season. His back-to-back Slam Dunk Contest championships made him a fan favorite quickly. His three-point shooting ability and flare at the rim often make for can’t miss moments on the court. Although the injury brings heartbreak to the team and its fans alike, the Wolves still have a chance to contend for a playoff spot.
The team will rely on a combination of Shabazz Muhammad, Brandon Rush, and Nemanja Bjelica to fill in for LaVine in the starting lineup. A trade, rumors of which still swirl around point guard Ricky Rubio, could also add depth at the position. If Muhammad starts, the team may not lose a lot in productivity.
LaVine’s stats are followed closely by Muhammad’s. Although Muhammad’s traditional stats off the bench do not match Lavine’s starting numbers, a look at advanced stats paints a picture of minimal loss for the Wolves.
- Player impact estimate: LaVine 9.5 vs. Muhammad 9.2
- Usage percentage: LaVine 21.8 vs. Muhammad 19.4
- Win shares per 48 minutes: LaVine .092 vs. Muhammad 0.88
Muhammad possesses a better pace, net rating, and turnover percentage than LaVine.
- Pace: LaVine 96.37 vs. Muhammad 98.16
- Net rating: LaVine -3.5 vs. Muhammad -0.1
- Turnover percentage: LaVine 9.9 vs. Muhammad 8.3
The team loses some flash in LaVine but gains another year of experience in Muhammad. In 13 career starts, Muhammad has averaged 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game, worthwhile numbers to a team that has the sixth-worst net rating in the league. What Muhammad lacks in scoring, he makes up for in defense. Without LaVine, the T’Wolves can still rely on Towns and Wiggins to carry the offense.
With the contributions of Muhammad, the experience of Rush, and the developing ability in Bjelica, there are reasons for continued optimism that the Wolves could still be playing meaningful basketball late this season. If they can make the playoffs without LaVine, that accomplishment could have even more meaning next season.
Brad Omland is a writer and editor for Howlin’ T-Wolf. Follow him on Twitter: @bradradio.