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PORTLAND, Ore. — As a Timberwolves rookie in 2014-15, Zach LaVine had it rough.
His rookie duties were assigned by a plethora of hard-core veterans like Mo Williams, Kevin Martin and none other than Kevin Garnett.
Practice would end. And Garnett would start booting basketballs into the stands of whatever arena the Timberwolves would be in for LaVine and fellow rookie Andrew Wiggins to fetch.
Coby White and Daniel Gafford have it easy.
“I haven’t been getting it as bad as some other rookies I know,” Gafford said following Sunday’s practice at Portland State University. “I thought there was a slight chance I was going to have to pay for dinner the other night. But we all chipped in. I was grateful for that.”
Added White: “They’ve been kind of light on me, so I appreciate that. We really don’t have that many vets, to be honest. Thad (Young) is a true vet and then there’s OP (Otto Porter Jr.), Zach and Sato (Tomas Satoransky). So I got lucky.”
Fetching towels and drinks, picking up shoes to give to the equipment manager and making food runs for the group before the Bulls’ charter plane leaves O’Hare have been the rookies’ biggest and most consistent tasks.
Maybe White’s theory holds some water. After all, the Bulls are the league’s third-youngest team. Or perhaps LaVine just recognizes the need to keep White, in particular, fresh.
When White is on the court, particularly alongside LaVine, it presents an offensive challenge for opposing defenses to consider. LaVine can see less double-teaming and blitzing.
“Zach is always in my ear because he has seen what I’m capable of and how good I can be. He tells me it’s my time, tells me to do what I do and to be Coby White and take over,” White said. “For our go-to guy to believe that much in me and encourage me means a lot. It gives me a lot of confidence.”
Coach Jim Boylen has been consistent with his approach regarding White’s closing role. If he has it rolling, which he did in road victories at the Grizzlies and Hornets or the home victory over the Knicks, White plays the majority or all of the fourth quarter alongside LaVine.
“I think he’s a big moment guy, I think he has that in him,” Boylen said. “I have confidence that he’s not scared about that moment. The big shot doesn’t bother him. He’s a competitive guy, so it’s easy to leave him out there.’’
LaVine leads the Bulls by averaging 6.3 points in the fourth quarter. White ranks second at 3.8 points. They average the same amount of playing time in the fourth, a team-high 7.3 minutes per game. Only Wendell Carter Jr. at 7.8 fourth-quarter minutes plays more.
“I think the league has seen him enough that you have to have a decent defender on him, so when you have him and Zach out there together I think that can put some pressure on the defense,” Boylen said. “Usually the primary guy takes Zach, and then maybe the secondary guy takes Coby.”
Trying to score against fourth-quarter defenses beats fetching basketballs from stands.
“In the fourth quarter, everything goes up a different level. So it’s a big deal being out there,” White said. “I’m just glad (Boylen) has faith in me when I have it rolling. Rookies don’t always get that opportunity. I’m blessed and thankful for it.”
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