Zach LaVine

Here's how Zach LaVine's return can help the Bulls

Two-time All-Star guard is on track to return Friday after 17-game absence with right foot inflammation

NBC Universal, Inc.

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

The Chicago Bulls aren’t better without Zach LaVine, who is likely to return Friday from missing 17 games with right foot inflammation.

They’re better without the LaVine that began this season, the one who shot below his career percentages and whose decision-making regressed. But they’re not better without the LaVine who earned two All-Star appearances and won an Olympic gold medal with elite and efficient scoring, more two-way tendencies and improved decision-making.

Just like they’re not better without Nikola Vucevic, who is listed as questionable for Friday after missing five games with a strained groin and whose passing ability, floor spacing and decision-making help the offense run more efficiently. Just like they're not better without Torrey Craig, whose offensive rebounding, among other factors, is missed.

Nobody wants to see the version of LaVine who began this season, including the man himself.

“I know I can play better,” LaVine said earlier this season.

Yes, the Bulls navigated 17 games without LaVine with a 10-7 record. And the ball movement and decision-making improved. But recent losses to the Cavaliers, 76ers and Knicks highlighted the need for more dynamic scoring and playmaking.

DeMar DeRozan said as much this week.

“We could've used that extra 20 to 25 to 30 points (Tuesday) night,” DeRozan said in Philadelphia. “Give another dynamic focal point of scoring, playmaking. At the end of the day, it's still Zach LaVine. And teams have to prepare for that. When we have him on the court, there are so many more options for us to execute."

Indeed, assuming LaVine finds his health and his form as he likely begins on a minutes restriction, here are two ways he can help the Bulls---for however long he’s wearing their uniform.

Floor spacing

LaVine is the best 3-point shooter and catch-and-shoot option on the team. With Coby White’s larger emergence during LaVine’s absence, opposing defenses will be forced to make choices between double-teaming DeRozan and leaving multiple shooters open.

LaVine averaged 7.1 3-point attempts in the 18 games he played before his injury. That’s the same number of attempts he averaged his last two seasons. The difference is he shot 33.6 percent, well below the 38.9 and 37.5 percent he connected at the last two seasons.

If LaVine gets his legs under him and sheds the likely minutes restriction, the Bulls would benefit from LaVine’s 3-point attempts creeping closer to his career-high 8.2 attempts in 2020-21. That’s also the season LaVine shot a career-best 41.9 percent from 3-point range.

Finishing kick

At his best, LaVine is in catch-and-shoot or attacking-the-rim situations. He has averaged at least 5.6 free-throw attempts per game in four of the last five seasons---and 5.1 attempts the other season.

Like this 3-point shooting, though, LaVine’s finishing numbers were down in the 18 games before his injury. Not only was he attempting 4.6 free throws per game, he was shooting 64.1 percent at the rim. That’s down from the 69-70 percent he has averaged the last three seasons.

LaVine’s usage rate was 25.4 before his injury, his lowest since the 2016-17 season with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Ideally, the Bulls place LaVine in the two scoring situations where he’s been elite the last three seasons---catch-and-shoot and getting downhill to the rim---and hope he finds his form.

The Bulls’ offensive rating jumped from 108.9 in the 18 games with LaVine to 114.5 over the last 17 without him. Some of that is due to multiple players, including LaVine, shooting well below their career percentages and finding their form.

With the team officially listing him as questionable on the injury report but all signs pointing to his return, LaVine’s quest to do the same is expected to begin Friday.

Click here to follow the Bulls Talk Podcast.

Contact Us