Chicago Bulls: Zach LaVine can’t be the facilitator

There’s ample reason to believe that the Chicago Bulls shouldn’t be running shooting guard Zach LaVine as the primary ball handler as often as they do.

No matter what role the Chicago Bulls cast him out in, shooting guard Zach LaVine isn’t going to be put in the right spot to maximize his skill set with this team. Head coach Jim Boylen manages to put LaVine and power forward Lauri Markkanen in situations game in and game out that just don’t make the best use of their skill sets.

LaVine seems to run into not the same problem as Karl-Anthony Towns does with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but a similar one. The Bulls trust LaVine out to be the primary ball handler all too many times. KAT is also given the duties of sparking the Timberwolves offense as the primary ball handler all too often.

Night in and night out, the stat lines from LaVine and KAT prove that they would best fit in a role as a secondary scorer alongside a bigger star that can facilitate the offense. It feels like LaVine would be best suited with a team like the Atlanta Hawks or Brooklyn Nets, where he could be a good go-to option behind a primary star creator and ball handler like a Trae Young or Kyrie Irving.

The same discussion exists around KAT when potential landing spots like the Boston Celtics or Golden State Warriors (even though a lot of players can work with the Warriors when they’re fully healthy).

Both KAT and LaVine make tough shots that 98 percent of other NBA players just can’t. They can create their own looks and go nuclear when it matters most. But both also can turn the ball over a lot when they’re forced to be the primary ball handler and facilitate their respective offenses.

LaVine pretty consistently averages around a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. At least that’s what it sat around over the course of the last six or eight games. That’s not the worst, but it fluctuates with his usage and assist numbers almost no matter what.

Let’s take a look at LaVine’s assist-to-turnover ratio over the course of the last eight games:

  1. Feb. 2-7:3
  2. Jan. 31-8:2
  3. Jan. 29-9:4
  4. Jan. 27-2:0
  5. Jan. 25-8:4
  6. Jan. 24-2:4
  7. Jan. 22-1:3
  8. Jan. 20-1:2

The numbers get slightly better for LaVine as time moved along over the last eight games. But everything comes close to averaging out to what his assist-to-turnover ratio is on the entire season. He is averaging 4.1 assists per game and 3.2 turnovers so far this season. That puts him at an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.28-1.0 in total this season.

Meanwhile, his assist-to-turnover ratio over the last eight games sits at 1.72-1.0. That is a bit better, but not so much so that it should be a noticeable trend over time.

What is admirable is the improvement LaVine is showing with such a poor supporting cast around him. The Bulls are without Markkanen, center Wendell Carter Jr., point guard Kris Dunn, and small forward Otto Porter Jr. at the moment. Rookie big man Daniel Gafford just returned to the lineup in last weekend’s loss to the Raptors.

LaVine is shouldering the offense completely on his own right now. And he’s doing pretty well in the process. His improvement shouldn’t go without recognition. It would just be nice if the Bulls had an actual primary ball handler to facilitate the offense and let LaVine go to work as a secondary scorer. But that seems like a pipedream at this moment.

While LaVine’s assist rate did drop from where it was last season, his turnover rate dropped too. His assist rate sits at 21.5 percent, while his turnover rate sits at 12.5 percent. That keeps to about the same ratio he was at last season.

The biggest difference in LaVine’s game over the course of the last three seasons is the increase in usage rate. His usage climbed to over 30 percent last season, and sits over 31 percent so far this season.

The final factor that could be contributing to LaVine’s miscast role as a primary ball handler is the lack of usage he’s even getting at either guard position. Around two-thirds of his minutes this season with the Bulls came at the small forward position instead of shooting guard or point guard.

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All in all, LaVine’s assist-to-turnover ratio that is hovering around 1.30 this season is a career-low. His assist-to-turnover ratio continued to decline as his usage rate continued to rise. That’s not a correlation that the Bulls should ignore. But it seems that Boylen, John Paxson, and Gar Forman are going to for the foreseeable future.

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