Let’s Talk About “Winning Players,” Two Ugly Stats, Pat Bev Loves Billy, and Other Bulls Bullets
If allergies were a person, I’d pie them in the fact and give them a swirly.
My throat is absolutely destroyed from all this congestion. Screw you, spring!
- This tweet popped up on my feed and it got me thinking …
- At this point, I can no longer deny that Devin Booker is ahead of Zach LaVine. Not only does he have an NBA Finals run under his belt, but he won 64 games last year and is competing in the playoffs for the third-straight season. When it comes to winning, Booker has demonstrated he can be the face of a team that does just that. And this is still the step we’re anxiously waiting for LaVine to take.
- LaVine is just 206-349 over his nine-year career, per Statmuse. He has just one winning season under his belt and one playoff appearance (where his team was bounced in five games). To be clear, I’m not bringing any of this up to bash LaVine. Instead, I bring it up to give some context around why many have – once similar to Booker – referred to LaVine as a “losing player” for quite some time. But is that really fair?
- I have always had a pretty big problem with the whole “losing player” phrase. The situation is undoubtedly a significant factor in a player’s career trajectory. For example, the Suns acquired HOF point guard Chris Paul and proceeded to go 51-21, giving Booker the first winning season of his career. When LaVine got his own possible HOF teammate in DeMar DeRozan, he also went on to experience the first winning season of his career. Expecting a player to simply learn how to win without … well … having a winning infrastructure around them is nearly impossible. And there is no question that LaVine has seldomly had that in his career.
- So why did the Bulls take a step backward this year? Why didn’t LaVine carry them into the playoffs after finally tasting winning like Booker? Two things: (1) The Bulls’ roster is flawed at its core, and (2) he came into the year injured. Now, that isn’t to necessarily say we’d see a different result if he was fully healthy, but I do want to emphasize that the Bulls were 14-9 after the All-Star break. Not to mention, LaVine tied with Booker for the third-most post-All-Star break points and shot the second-best of the post-All-Star top 10 scorers (big man Joel Embiid was first).
- I’m not trying to sound like the front office here and make excuses. As I said, the roster is severely flawed and there is no question everyone deserves part of the blame for this disappointing year. But when it comes to LaVine in a vacuum, I actually do think he showed progress as a winning player once he was fully healthy this season. We saw genuine improvement in his passing, late-game decision-making, and ability to take over games. Does any of this mean I think he’s on his way to reaching Booker’s level? No. Not right now. But I do still believe he can be a key piece to a winning team.
- Speaking of that flawed roster, I wanted to mention two stats that touch on the root of the Bulls’ problems. The first thing is that Chicago averaged comfortably the highest percentage of their points off mid-range shots this season, per NBA Stats. They also led the league in that category last season. If we look at the last five seasons, the team to rank first in this department finished with a losing record in all but one of the seasons (the Bulls’ last year). This isn’t to say that you can’t have a healthy dosage of mid-range in your offense, but we continue to see that relying on it as much as the Bulls do is rarely going to lead to true success.
- Relatedly, moving the ball is crucial in today’s pace-and-space NBA. The Bulls assisted on the 8th-lowest percentage of their made field goals. The Knicks and Hawks are the only two teams to rank lower this year and make the playoffs. New York is tied 1-1 with Cleveland and Atlanta has been blown out twice thus far by Boston. So, yeah, it should come as no surprise that isolation basketball and mid-range jumpers aren’t a strong recipe for success in today’s league. For some reason, though, those are the things this front office clearly prioritized. Confusing.
- Patrick Beverley has been Billy Donovan’s biggest cheerleader since arriving in Chicago.
- At the end of the day, Donovan deserves blame for the Bulls’ lackluster season. Mid-way through the year it felt like he lost the locker room, and the team’s inability to execute down the stretch falls largely on his shoulders. If the team hadn’t extended him prior to this season, I do think there would be a least a conversation about finding a new head honcho. Do I think that conversation would actually have led to a change? No. I think Donovan’s still a respected face and would’ve deserved at least one more chance. But, yeah, I can’t deny the seat would have been hot.
- The NBA suspended Draymond Green for a pivotal Game 3 against the Sacramento Kings. According to the NBA, Green’s past actions were factored into the decision. Wow.
- Go IceHogs, I guess!
- Some DL news …