Zach LaVine might be back on the court, but he isn’t back to 100 percent.
When the 2x All-Star decided to visit a specialist on the West Coast before All-Star Weekend, the plan was not to fix the problem. Instead, by draining some fluid and receiving a cortisone injection in his left knee, LaVine simply gave himself the boost he needed to finish out the season.
“I’ll deal with it later, LaVine told the Chicago Sun-Time after practice in Miami on Wednesday. “We don’t know what that is going to be and how exactly we’re going to approach it. But it is pretty much like a bandaid. It’s making me feel better for the time being and getting me to a place where I feel comfortable playing and being effective on the court over this last stretch.”
To be sure, when LaVine was given the green light to return after the All-Star break, we weren’t sold a flawless product. LaVine made clear the procedure would get him through the remainder of this season, and the summer would then be used to get him back into tip-top shape.
However, the question does remain, how close is LaVine to 100 percent? And what will an offseason fix entail? The answer to either question has been hard to come by. All we know right now is the situation isn’t severe enough to warrant an immediate stoppage of play. Trainers clearly feel comfortable nothing will worsen the longer LaVine stays on the floor. And, no doubt, that’s good news. But what isn’t good news is the fact the already banged-up Bulls are headed toward the playoffs with a less-than-optimal LaVine. Even more frustrating, there is clearly no shot of him becoming his best self until the season comes to an end.
For LaVine, though, that doesn’t seem to change the kind of positive impact he believes he can provide on a nightly basis.
“I might not be 100 percent,” LaVine told NBC Sports Chicago. “But me at 80 percent, 70 percent, whatever it is, it’s still one of the best players in the NBA. Damn sure one of the best players on the court when we play.”
Considering LaVine has still found himself over the 20-point threshold in each of the team’s games since the All-Star Game, it’s not hard to believe him. As one of the best pure scorers in the game, he’s capable of playing at a high-level even in the midst of injury trouble.
With that said, the case could be made this knee problem has already shown up in the box score. The 26-year-old told reporters he isn’t “going to be 100 percent the same way” he was before the Golden State Warriors game (when he first checked himself out due to the knee soreness), and the stats since January 14th could reflect that …
Prior to January 14th: 25.6 ppg (49.1 FG%, 41.2 3PT%), 4.9 reb, 4.3 ast
After January 14th: 23.2 ppg (44.4 FG%, 35.3 3PT%), 5.0 reb, 5.4 ast
We could surely see LaVine’s points and efficiency improve as he shakes off some of the rust that came with playing on-and-off the past month. But whether or not we’ll see the same level of consistency we have grown accustomed to is a fair question. And, again, it’s a frustrating one when we consider the challenge that rests on the horizon.
I also can’t necessarily blame anyone who cringes a bit when thinking about LaVine’s current injury and its relation to his upcoming max contract. It’s never comforting to know a problem looms – especially a knee problem – when $200+ million is on the table. Still, I advise everyone to remind themselves that LaVine remains on the floor for a reason. The fact he has not been instructed to shut it down should suggest there isn’t strong concern this will turn into a significant long-term issue.
Maybe he’s just trying to play through it to secure the bag! I understand where that concern might stem from, but he insists playing through this problem is the opposite of putting himself first:
“I have a big responsibility here with the team, my teammates, my coaches, the city of Chicago.” LaVine told NBC Sports Chicago. “I take a lot of pride in that. It means something to me. And I hope people understand that I’m going out here and definitely not putting myself first here in this situation.”
It’s that mentality that has kept LaVine in Chicago through thick and thin. And it’s that mentality I suspect will keep him here a lot longer.