Chicago Bulls: Grading Zach LaVine’s season at the NBA hiatus

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

For the foreseeable future, the Chicago Bulls won’t be playing any more games. Let’s give Zach LaVine a grade for his season thus far.

There’s always a chance that the NBA regular season will continue sometime in the near future, but it’s starting to feel less and less likely. If the NBA returns at all, it feels like it’ll be some version of the playoffs, not the rest of the regular season. If that’s the case, that means the Chicago Bulls’ 2019-20 season is over.

After an offseason full of fun videos on social media and a dominant preseason, Zach LaVine looked poised to make The Leap. He definitely made a leap this season, but it didn’t end up being The Leap.

Statistically, LaVine was really solid. He averaged a career-high 25.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game and was decently efficient, posting .450/.380/.802 shooting splits. Obviously, those aren’t elite levels of efficiency, but with the degree of difficulty on most of his shots, those numbers are pretty good.

LaVine even looked the best he ever has (by far) in the box plus/minus (BPM) statistic. Since it’s based purely on generic box score numbers, BPM isn’t a perfect metric, but it’s still an effective tool in certain cases. LaVine’s 2.5 BPM shattered his previous best number of 0.8. He also had a higher BPM than the following guards for the 2019-20 season: Russell Westbrook, Devin Booker, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Malcolm Brogdon, Donovan Mitchell, Ja Morant, Buddy Hield, and Jrue Holiday.

Does that mean LaVine is a better player than all of those guys? Of course not. BPM doesn’t capture the full story of a player’s impact on his team, but it still says something that LaVine’s BPM was better than all of those guys’.

LaVine has a reputation of being a guy who doesn’t pass the ball. If you watch his highlight videos, that makes sense. He takes a lot of tough shots — some of which are even considered to be quite poor in terms of shot selection. But if you watch the Bulls’ offensive flow, it’s easier to understand why LaVine takes the shots he does.

Often times, if LaVine wasn’t pulling up from deep with a couple hands in his face, the Bulls were left taking an even worse shot. LaVine’s chucking was a result of an amateur offensive system, not a selfish mentality. Yes, he needs to improve his reads. When he gets doubled in the paint, he can make poor decisions. He sometimes telegraphs his ideas. But there’s no reason to believe that he wouldn’t be a willing passer in a better offense.

Defense is where most of LaVine’s issues live. He’s often pegged as someone who doesn’t give maximum effort and simply can’t make smart defensive decisions. Parts of that are true, parts are not.

LaVine works his tail off when guarding the ball. He often gets bodied and plowed through due to a lack of strength and size, but he does a nice job of moving his feet and staying in front of opposing ball handlers. Effort isn’t the issue there.

Off the ball is a different story. I’m not sure whether LaVine is lazy or just ignorant while playing off-ball defense, but whatever it is, it’s not great.

Even though he still has a lot of work to do on the defensive end of the court, he at least improved this season, which is a good sign. He posted a career-high in defensive win shares (2.2) and defensive box plus/minus (-0.8). Those numbers aren’t particularly good, but they’re better than they’ve been in the past. Still, he needs to do a better job of executing team defense in order to become an all-around elite player. He’s still young, though. There’s time.

Overall, LaVine had a nice season. He didn’t make the All-Star team and he didn’t lead the Bulls to the playoffs, but he gave fans some really nice moments, which is more than Bulls fans have had in a while. He’s nowhere close to a perfect player, but he competes hard and he genuinely wants to win. Can you imagine how painful this Bulls team would’ve been without LaVine bringing it every night? That has to count for something.

Next. The best and worst Bulls to be quarantined with. dark

Grade: A-