On the Bright Side, Zach LaVine Might Have Finally Shaken Off the Rust

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On the Bright Side, Zach LaVine Might Have Finally Shaken Off the Rust

Chicago Bulls

If the Chicago Bulls want to prove that they are NOT just a one-hit wonder, they’ll need Zach LaVine to continue what he did on Sunday night.

While it may have been the team’s third-straight loss, LaVine played easily his best basketball of the season. The two-time All-Star scored 41 points on an efficient 16-28 performance from the field. He also added 8 rebounds and 4 steals to the box score. For someone who began the year looking like a shell of his former self, it was the kind of performance that can put certain concerns to bed.

Real questions started to set in about the LaVine the Bulls would get this season following an offseason knee surgery. Originally expected to be 100 percent coming into the year, LaVine missed several games over the first few weeks of the season as part of his recovery. Then, once he did start playing on a night-to-night basis, he couldn’t have looked more rusty. He was missing shots at a rate Bulls fans hadn’t seen since his very first season in Chicago. And the stats weren’t the only thing off.

LaVine failed to pass the eye test game after game. He lacked elevation on many of his jumpers, settled for far too many contested looks, and repeatedly botched layups. Everything about it was discouraging.

What LaVine reminded everyone on Sunday, however, was that he signed a max contract for a reason. He completely took advantage of the Kings’ lackluster defense and did it in the exact way the Bulls want to see. Instead of chucking up midrange shots or stepback 3s, LaVine prioritized the paint. The guard attacked downhill in transition and powered his way to the rim off Nikola Vucevic’s screens in the halfcourt. More often than not he either finished inside or forced his way to the free-throw line, as Sacramento looked borderline helpless.

Take a look:

LaVine made 11 of his 14 shot attempts within 10ft of the basket last night. More specifically, he took a total of 13 shots within 8ft of the rim, which was by far the most attempts he’s taken that close to the basket this season. If I’m looking at all his shot charts correctly, his previous high was set at 9 attempts (which he reached against Boston, Toronto, and Golden State).

On the year so far, LaVine has taken 35.9 percent of his total attempts within 8ft of the rim, but that number sat at 46.4 percent against Sacramento. So I don’t think it’s any kind of coincidence that this happened to be his best and most efficient game of the season. Good things tend to happen when he’s in attack mode, and we can only hope that this performance was a sign of what’s to come.

Indeed, this game has at least given us some reason to believe that LaVine is regaining the kind of strength, confidence, and feel that is needed to perform at an elite level. Then again, this may not mean all that much if DeMar DeRozan continues to shoot 6-18 and Nikola Vucevic can’t muster more than 12 points. But in a season that has otherwise been frustrating at best, this felt like a possible glimmer of hope.

Author: Elias Schuster

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