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What to Make of Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine has his eyes set on making the 2020 All-Star Game, but has he been the player the Bulls hoped for when they signed him for $78 million? David Wildman dives in here.

It’s not unfair to say that Zach LaVine is one of the most polarizing figures on this current iteration of the Bulls. LaVine was acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade while recovering from a torn ACL because the front office viewed LaVine as a rising superstar that would be the centerpiece to the next great Bulls team.

The team doubled down on that faith when they matched LaVine’s $78-million contract that he had agreed to with the Kings two years ago in free agency, locking him in as an integral part of the team through 2022. While LaVine’s scoring numbers seem to justify the large contract and faith, there’s a lot about LaVine’s game that might give some pause heading into 2020.

LaVine’s 30.2% usage rate cements him as the primary option in the Bulls’ offense. His usage rate is nearly 10% higher than any other member of the Bulls’ usual starting five. To put that into perspective, the 2017-18 championship-winning Golden State Warriors found a way to spread the ball around between four superstars better than the Bulls do with LaVine on the floor. This point is easily illustrated by nearly identical usage rates of 29% between Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry.

Lauri Markanen’s usage rate of 21.2% is well below what a second primary option should be. Part of that may be attributed to some regression/stagnation his offensive game has experienced this year, but the point remains, LaVine dominates the ball on offense.

Some may say “well for $19.5 million a year he should be,” but do LaVine’s numbers on offense really back that point up? Well, yes and no.

LaVine’s 42.7% shooting percentage places him at 104th in the league, while his 18 FGA a game is good for 15th in the league. While this discrepancy does not necessarily paint a complete picture of an inefficient, ball-dominant player, it doesn’t help.

LaVine’s 51% effective field goal percentage is well below the desired 60%-plus. This is another damning piece of information when considering LaVine’s role in what has been a disappointing Bulls offense so far this season. One that currently ranks 24th in the league in PPG with 106. LaVine’s turnovers per game are also currently sitting as the eighth-worst number in basketball.

Looking at LaVine’s touch time statistics, he leads the entire team in possessions lasting longer than six seconds. This comes out to 24% of his team possessions. This is a spot usually reserved for point guards unless you have LeBron James on your team. This is perhaps the most damning statistic when it comes to trying to decipher LaVine’s contributions to the offense.

So while LaVine may be hovering around 23 points per game, the numbers suggest he has often been guilty of jamming up the Bulls’ offense.

LaVine’s ability to score and dunk was never in question, but considering the circumstances of his acquisition and the show of faith that was portrayed through his lucrative extension, it’s not unfair to expect more from LaVine, particularly on defense.

LaVine’s defensive rating, which in a nutshell is how good a player is at stopping at other players from scoring, is among the worst in basketball at 106.7. LaVine’s struggles on defense were infamously called out by coach Jim Boylen following a late November loss in which LaVine was benched. LaVine responded by scoring 49 points the following night. But once again, the question was never whether LaVine was a capable scorer, we knew he was. But, he has yet to respond to Boylen’s criticism defensively.

That being said, LaVine has recently established himself as an effective closer late in games, something the Bulls very sorely lacked. LaVine has been statistically the third-best player in what has officially been defined as “clutch time” this season. This is obviously an important consideration when trying to put an overall grade on the season LaVine is putting together. His value in the clutch has been outstanding, but is he doing enough to even get the team to those moments in the other parts of the game?

Zach Lavine is, all in all, a fairly complicated case. On the surface, his numbers are high volume, low efficiency. In LaVine’s defense, the same can be said about James Harden, but drawing comparisons between the two guards is not realistic. The Rockets are winning games with Harden’s output while the Bulls are not with LaVine’s.

At $19.5 million a season, LaVine should either be more efficient and well-rounded or scoring at a volume more in line with some of the league’s absolute premier scorers. While it’s too early to deem LaVine’s contract definitively good or bad, based on his salary the Bulls should surely be expecting more from LaVine.

That being said, LaVine may still find himself in the All-Star Game this season, but that is not necessarily an accurate representation of the season he’s having. LaVine’s second half of the season will reveal more about the type of player he will ultimately be during the rest of his contract, but the answer right now is teetering between we’ll see and not good enough.


Featured Photo: USA Today

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