Chicago Bulls: Zach LaVine is not a No. 1 Option

Chicago Bulls (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Chicago Bulls (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Bulls were an atrocious 22-43 last season with Zach LaVine as the team’s first offensive option. Is it time for the team to make a change?

There’s no doubt about it: Zach LaVine was the Chicago Bulls leader on offense last season. His 25.5 points per game was the most scored by any Bull by a wide margin (second was Lauri Markkanen with 14.7 PPG). LaVine came fairly close to earning All-Star honors, finishing sixth in Eastern Conference Backcourt voting, but not receiving a spot off the bench.

Despite his consistent scoring, the Bulls finished 11th in the East at a disappointing 22-43. There are plenty of valid explanations for their shortcomings, (**cough** Head Coach Jim Boylen **cough**).

Nevertheless, the question still stands: is LaVine Chicago’s star going forward? The 4 year/$78 Million contract he’s under until 2022 suggests that he stands to be in the Bulls long term plans, but has he earned the right to be the face of the franchise?

In his six seasons in the league, LaVine has yet to play in the Playoffs. To be fair though, that’s not necessarily his fault. Injuries and weak rosters in Minnesota and Chicago kept him from facing any expectations that he would be helping lead a playoff team. But this year, after adding veterans Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoransky, and rookie Coby White, fans had hope the Bulls would at least make a playoff push.

The Bulls were instead out of contention right out of the gate, starting 1-4 losing games to the Charlotte Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers, and New York Knicks. They never righted the ship, and finished so far back that they were one of the only eight teams not to be invited to the season’s restart in Orlando.

LaVine was a large part of why the Bulls were so disappointing this season.

The Chicago guard was given the usage rate of a super star, at 31.2 percent. This sat 11th in the NBA amongst players to appear in at least 16 games (about 1/4 of the season), just behind Joel Embiid (31.5 percent) and ahead of legend LeBron James (30.8 percent).

Although he hit some clutch threes and threw down some flashy dunks, the stats show that LaVine is clearly not suited to be the Bulls’ top option. Or anyone’s, for that matter.

Despite leading the team in scoring, LaVine was not a clear plus on the court for the Bulls. Amongst Bulls players to appear in at least 1/4 of games, he finished ninth in NETRTG at -4.4, lower than the team’s average net rating of -3.1.

The on/off splits aren’t pretty either. Although the offense faired +4.0 better in Offensive rating with LaVine, the Bulls allowed opponents to have a +9.0 better ORTG when LaVine was on the court vs. when he was on the bench. The offense LaVine created was outweighed by the points he gave up, with the Bulls overall fairing a difference of -5.0 ORTG worse with LaVine on the court.

Yikes. Not a great look for a player that some wanted to see make his first All-Star appearance this season.

Not only is LaVine the defensive equivalent of Swiss cheese, but he also is a paperweight holding down the flow of the Chicago offense. Compared to this year’s All-Star guards, his assist to turnover ratio is abysmal. LaVine finished with a 1.23 assist/turnover ratio, far worse than any guard to make the All-Star game in 2020.

All-Star Guards vs. Zach LaVine in Assist/Turnover ratio:

  • Zach LaVine: 1.23
  • Russell Westbrook: 1.57
  • Donovan Mitchell: 1.60
  • James Harden: 1.66
  • Devin Booker: 1.73
  • Trae Young: 1.94
  • Luka Doncic: 2.07
  • Ben Simmons: 2.28
  • Kemba Walker: 2.29
  • Kyle Lowry: 2.43
  • Damian Lillard: 2.73
  • Chris Paul: 2.93

LaVine has a clear inability to create for his teammates and to hold onto the ball. He couldn’t even fair better than rookie point guard Coby White (1.61) in assist/turnover ratio.

You also can’t say it’s because he had to carry the Bulls’ offense, considering Trae Young was in a similar situation and still faired far better in the same statistic. LaVine just isn’t a safe hand to have the ball in (3.4 TO, 10th in the NBA), and he’s not enough of a creator to justify his ball dominant play (just 4.2 APG)

At this point you may be thinking, well he can’t defend, he can’t playmake or ball handle but he can score! Well, kind of. Yes, he’s good for 20+ a game, but he’s not exactly the epitome of efficiency.

In isolation, LaVine puts up .91 points per possession. To compare this to Chicago’s other guards: Kris Dunn puts up 1.00 PPP, Satoransky puts up .96, and  White scores .79. On the team he supposedly leads, LaVine isn’t even the most efficient iso scorer.

In the pick and roll, LaVine didn’t fair much better. As a ball handler LaVine shot a 48.2 eFG% on 7.3 FGA, which is very comparable to CJ McCollum. (48.3 eFG%, on 7.2 FGA).

Kindly put, LaVine is just a glorified McCollum with hops. He scores at a similar rate in the pick and roll (one of the most often run and fundamental plays in the NBA), is equally horrendous on defense, but is actually far worse at holding onto the ball (CJ has a 2.4 A/TO).

McCollum is also fairly similar in isolation scoring .88  points per possession, just barely less than LaVine.

The major difference though is that unlike LaVine, McCollum’s offensive input outweighs his defensive detriment. Although when he’s on the court the opponent’s OFFRTG goes up by .7, the Portland ORTG goes up by +5.5 with his presence. This means McCollum has a positive difference in on/off ORTG (+4.8), unlike LaVine (-5.0).

This is not meant to be a knock on CJ McCollum; I think he’s one of the best second options in the NBA. He carryied a heavy load on a depleted Portland roster this season, helping Damian Lillard drag them to the playoffs.

This also isn’t meant to be a knock on Zach LaVine. He’s a talented offensive player, but he is not a number one option like he may believe he is. Last season he proved he wasn’t fit to handle that role, and would be far better as a secondary option.

Next. 3 landing spots most beneficial for Zach LaVine. dark

Chicago is going to need to retool the roster if they want LaVine to be in his ideal role, or hope for a stunning change in his defense, ball handling, and playmaking in one offseason.