Zach LaVine has not lost a step. If anything, he’s added several.
While he first made a name for himself by viciously dunking the basketball, LaVine has proven to be one of the most elite all-around bucket-getters in the Eastern Conference. Last season, the man averaged 25.5 points per game on a 45 percent clip from the field and 38.0 percent shot from downtown. He finished the season 15th in total points, and 12th in 3-pointers made.
Now, in a season where he has also shown considerable improvement in other areas of his game (such as playmaking and defensive effort), LaVine has somehow managed to look even better doing what he does best. Through the first 11 games of the season, the 25-year-old is averaging 27.7 points per game and shooting 49.1 percent from the field. He has scored 30+ points in four of the team’s last five games and had his most impressive outing in the Bulls’ most recent contest with 45 points and 10 3-pointers. Arguably the most impressive part of that performance, however, was that he largely did it against one of the game’s best defenders – Kawhi Leonard.
What LaVine has done so far this season is a whole lot more than just a hot start. The guy is truly on track to have an even better year offensively than his career-best season in 2019-20, and a big reason for that is improved efficiency. While his usage rating has dropped under head Billy Donovan’s new motion offense, it has opened up the floor way more. Defenses can no longer put all their focus into guarding LaVine with the added hot-hand of Coby White. Not to mention, increased ball movement is always a good way to keep opposing defenses on their toes.
LaVine deserves the credit, though, for embracing the offensive scheme and improving his decision-making. Except for some last-second chuck-ups, he has found his spots more effectively this season (including in the mid-range). LaVine has also attacked the rim with a far greater sense of urgency, which is proving to be very generous to his overall shooting efficiency. As things currently stand, he holds an effective field goal percentage of 57.9 percent, which ranks in the 77th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass. Compare that to last season’s numbers and the change is pretty drastic – 53.0 percent and in the 56th percentile
Again, the hike in those numbers is thanks to his improved work around the rim. He has attacked driving lanes and finished at the basket 77 percent of the time, good enough to put him in the 89th percentile. How much better is that than one season ago? Uh, a crap ton: 59 percent, 41st percentile.
Whether or not LaVine will continue to trend in this direction will be worth watching closely. These big scoring bursts have come with several key rotation players sidelined due to the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols, including Lauri Markkanen. I expect when some of those players return that we will see his workload in this equal opportunity system diminish, which is actually more than fine considering the improvement he has shown impacting the game in other ways. Still, there is no question that LaVine’s basketball IQ and scoring chops have taken yet another step in the right direction so far this season, and that should be scary news for the rest of the NBA.