Zach LaVine is Getting to the Free Throw Line Like Never Before

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Zach LaVine is Getting to the Free Throw Line Like Never Before

Chicago Bulls

Zach LaVine may not be 100 percent healthy, but the 2x All-Star has still found a way to take his game to the next level this season.

Exactly which version of LaVine we would see after the All-Star break was once a concerning question. While he assured media and fans, alike, that his knee would not prohibit him from playing out the rest of the season, he was open about the fact that the injury would remain a problem until the summer. Whether it be a couple of random below 20-point scoring efforts, sitting out of practice, or the occasional wince, LaVine’s lingering discomfort became plenty evident. However, it didn’t seem to significantly impact the category he tends to contribute to the most – scoring.

Since his return to the floor on February 24th, LaVine has still averaged roughly 25.0 points per game. He’s still mustered four 30-point scoring efforts over the last 18 games, including a 39-point performance against the New Orleans Pelicans and a 33-point performance against the Miami Heat. His shooting clips have dipped a tiny bit from his season average to a 46.3 percent mark from the field and a 37.5 percent success rate from behind the arc, but the points have still generally come for a team that needs it. And one big reason for that has been his work at the free-throw line.

LaVine has averaged 7.8 free-throw attempts per game since late February, which happens to be 2.9 attempts more than the amount he shot per game before the All-Star break, per Basketball-Reference. More specifically, since March 7, LaVine has been on one of the best free-throw shooting streaks of his career. The explosive downhill threat has averaged 9.1 free-throw attempts per contest, and he’s shot at least six free-throw attempts in 13-straight games for the first time in his career.

When we look over the entire NBA since March 7th, LaVine has taken the 5th-most total shots from the charity stripe, per NBA Stats.

Total Free Throws Since March 7th

Joel Embiid: 172
Nikola Jokic: 137
James Harden: 131
Giannis Antetokounmpo: 127
Zach LaVine: 118

The Bulls’ shooting guard has sat with elite company over the past few weeks, and he ranks ahead of names like Trae Young, RJ Barrett, Darius Garland, and his annoyingly-crafty teammate DeMar DeRozan. All things considered, the fact he has been able to put this stretch together with a bum knee is pretty remarkable, and I think it just goes to show how many tools he can turn to in his bag of tricks.

I also have to wonder whether or not this recent streak has turned on a lightbulb. While LaVine’s relentless attacking might be due to a tight knee hindering his jump shot, there is no question it’s showing him how effective he can be when it comes to shooting freebies. I think I speak for many when I say Bulls fans have been waiting for LaVine to put his head down and use his elite athleticism to force this kind of contact. He’s averaged a solid 5.6 free-throw attempts over his past four seasons, but we’re now seeing that he has the talent to average plenty more.

If players like Trae Young, Luka Doncic, Ja Morant, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander can all average upwards of 7.0 free-throw attempts per game, why can’t LaVine? I know they all might draw these fouls in various ways, but LaVine has the burst, bounce, and quickness to make this a more consistently prominent part of his game.

To be honest, there is no reason he shouldn’t want to keep this number up. We’re talking about free points 85.1 percent of the time for LaVine, and we’re also talking about another way to take command of the game. If he wants to learn how to be a better leader and crunch-time player, being able to control the pace of play and get his team easy points is one of the best ways to do just that.

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Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.