As Zach LaVine gradually walked up the stairs, the Chicago Bulls cartoonishly lost their balance and bonked their head on each step-down. His all-around growth toward becoming one of the league’s top shooting guards has been arguably the only constant for the Bulls organization over the last several years, which is exactly why we saw this new front office take a stick of dynamite to the roster this summer.
Immediately adding high-impact talent around LaVine felt like the best path forward. Why give up on one of the most athletically gifted scorers in the league who is just about to enter his prime? Sure, there has been doubt about exactly how high LaVine can fly (metaphorically … we all know he is a human airplane on the court), but a lot of that doubt can be chalked up to circumstance.
Last season helped demonstrate just how alone LaVine truly was in Chicago. As he strung together one of the most efficient scoring performances of the season in an All-Star campaign, the rest of his teammates crumbled. Lauri Markkanen had the worst statistical season of his career while Wendell Carter Jr. looked nothing but the same. And neither had dysfunctional coaching or a lack of opportunity to blame. Arturas Karnisvas and Co. gave everyone on the roster a chance to prove their worth, and only LaVine (and Coby White, I guess) passed the test.
Both Markkanen and Carter were foundational in what the Bulls were trying to build. Those two – along with players like veteran shooter Otto Porter and pass-happy point guard Tomas Satoransky – were supposed to accompany LaVine in creating a versatile and balanced offensive starting unit. Instead, the Bulls had the worst offense in the league for years on end. From the 2017-18 season to the 2018-19 season the Bulls never ranked out of the bottom three in offensive rating. Under Donovan last season, the team did see their rating bump up to 21st overall, but I think we can all agree that’s nothing to hang a hat on.
LaVine was stuck carrying the offense on his own year in and year out. As he was asked to do more on-ball creation, the team could no longer take full advantage of his increasingly reliable catch-and-shoot talent nor his athletic cutting. Obviously, LaVine did fine for himself in this high-usage role, but the relief he now feels to have legitimate help is more than clear.
After the team’s recent blowout preseason victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, LaVine discussed his increased off-ball role and the benefit of having backcourt creators like Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan.
“You don’t want to have to try to do everything, it’s not fun,” LaVine told reporters. “So I’m getting easy shots … I’m getting wide-open shots, and I’m still able to play my game being in the pick-and-roll [and] handling the ball. But it’s not like it’s an every single possession type thing. And I’m enjoying it.”
Spoken like a man with experience.
LaVine’s right, the offense isn’t flowing through his hands every trip down the floor. He doesn’t just have one teammate who can take the scoring burden off his back but rather multiple, and the preseason has immediately demonstrated that.
The first game against the Cleveland Cavaliers was LaVine’s show. In 24 minutes of action, the guard went 9-14 from the field and 4-6 from downtown with 25 points and 3 assists. The savvy play of Lonzo Ball certainly made LaVine’s life easier, but it was the familiar efficient scoring performance we saw from LaVine time and again last season.
Fast forward to Game 2, however, and things were different. While LaVine still held up his end of the bargain with 21 points in 28 minutes of play, his rhythm from downtown wasn’t quite there (2-7). Fortunately, the opposite could be said for Lonzo Ball. LaVine’s new point guard scored 19 points in 25 minutes of action behind a 5-6 outing form behind the arc. Thanks for the help, pal!
Then, in Game 3, it was DeMar DeRozan’s turn. LaVine’s dropped just 13 points (5-14) during his 30 minutes of action, but the Bulls never particularly came close to falling out of the game. Instead, DeRozan threw the offense on his back and finished the night with 23 points on a 9-17 night from the field. So will Game 4 be Vucevic’s turn?
Of course, the goal is not to have one solid individual performance a night. Chicago needs every player on the roster to contribute at a high level and feed off one another to generate the best offensive product. But the fact LaVine finally has teammates who can reliably put points on the board feels pretty damn huge. The opportunity will open the door for him to reserve energy for Olympic-like defensive contributions while also paving a path for even more efficient scoring (which feels crazy to say after what we saw last season). Not to mention, and it surely goes without saying, more options will simply make this Bulls team so much better on that end of the floor.
Anyway, if you want more discussions on this team’s offensive potential, I’ll direct you to some of the posts below! One week until the season!
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) September 15, 2021
“He’s Incredible” – DeMar DeRozan Couldn’t Sound More Excited to Play Alongside Zach LaVinehttps://t.co/wBcecxDyw4
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) October 8, 2021
Lonzo Ball Showed the Bulls Exactly What They Wanted in the Preseason Opener, Just Ask His Teammateshttps://t.co/vFbt44gOi2
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) October 6, 2021