On Saturday night, LaVine dropped a season-high 36 points (woo!) … in the Bulls’ 117-111 loss to the Brooklyn Nets (boo!). In an almost-replicated performance from last season, LaVine was given free-range of the offensive attack with no tangible, positive outcome to laud at the end.
In fact, LaVine had the team’s second-to-worst plus-minus on the floor (-8) despite his scoring numbers. He shot 3-10 from downtown and had a season-low in assists. Meanwhile, on the other end of the court, the sixth-year guard continues to do little to nothing to help his poor reputation.
The Bulls defense is now 17.9 points worse per 100 possessions when Zach LaVine is on the court
There are only 3 players who are worse: Rodney McGruder, Rui Hachimura, and Thomas Bryant
LaVine's adding offensive value, but it hasn't been enough to negate his defensive downside
— Bulls Gold (@BullsGold) November 18, 2019
Heading into the season, LaVine spoke confidently about his All-Star aspirations. For the time being, that’s all on hold – he isn’t sniffing an All-Star appearance with the Bulls on their current course, and maybe that’s why we’re seeing him slowly express his displeasure.
“We should take offense to it,” LaVine told NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson. “We’ve had a really easy schedule to start off. You gotta win the games you’re supposed to win. We’ve pissed away a lot of games I think we should’ve won.”
While it’s nice to see LaVine find his voice, it’s fair to wonder whether this frustration is turning into motivation or selfishness. In the rest of his postgame comments, he pointed out the flaws in the offense (which is nice to see), but his understanding of what’s plaguing this team feels a bit off.
“Sometimes you get the ball and, to me, it feels like there are 12 eyes staring at me,” LaVine said. “I’m not scared to take any shot. I’ve not scared to miss a shot. I’ve taken all these shots before. If I’m the person to blame, I can take it. I’m in the gym working on my craft each night. I always look at myself first before anyone else. We just gotta do better as a unit.”
Accepting blame is important, it’s a true sign of a leader (and Boylen should take note of that). However, for LaVine to reach this leader status, he has to understand those 12 eyes should be on him. The problem isn’t that this young team is looking to LaVine for help, the problem is how LaVine is handling it.
We’ve seen several contested shot attempts and hero-ball moments late in crunch time so far this season. To his credit, he’s knocked down a couple of clutch buckets to keep this team alive, and getting to the free-throw line a bit more (which I LOVE to see) … but regardless, LaVine needs to encourage ball movement. When this team falls into its stagnant phases, it’s hard to say whether or not LaVine really knows what to do.
“I try to call a pick-and-roll most of the time when that happens and then if nothing comes from that, I’m going to take the shot or pass it. I’m definitely going to at least get a shot on the rim,” he said. “I’m not one to just dribble the clock out or anything like that or throw it to somebody with seven seconds left. If I get it at the top of the key with eight, nine seconds left on the clock, I’m going to try to make a play.”
Make a play or take the shot? Those are two different things.
LaVine referred to getting his own shots up numerous times throughout the postgame, but it’s hard to say if that’s actually what this team needs most from him right now. When crunch time rolls around, the outside perspective is that it’s LaVine against the world (unless Coby White starts sinking threes like it’s going out of style). Last year, that was the plan, and if it didn’t win the Bulls a bunch of games then, it’s sure not going to win them a bunch of games now.
I think it’s telling the Bulls lost a 36-point LaVine performance, yet won a 10-point performance against the Atlanta Hawks or a 25-point performance against the Knicks. Sure, both those games featured big performances from another player, but LaVine also contributed far more in other areas. For example, having five assists in the Knicks game or grabbing eight rebounds in the Hawks game.
LaVine doesn’t need to have all of the answers, that’s Boylen’s job. Although, when the ball’s in his hand, he needs to set this team up for success. It’s clear he’s trying to do that; however, it’s also clear he’s not doing it well.
At least he recognizes something needs to change. I guess all we can do is wait and see what that change is.
(Michael: Personally, it seems like the whole of LaVine’s impact is less than the sum of his parts. Broadly speaking, his actions on the court (particularly at the end of close games) and words off the court appear to scream I’m the only one who can deliver a win right now, and I’m capable of doing it. But I’m just not sure either point is true. There’s no questioning his talent. He’s a great basketball player. But it’s perfectly fair to wonder whether he’s applying it effectively – at some point, he must get better at helping his team win.)