Chicago Bulls: Zach LaVine advanced analytical deep dive

Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /

Once again, the focal point of the Chicago Bulls starting five for the 2020-21 regular season should be shooting guard Zach LaVine.

Just a few days ahead of the start of Training Camp for the Chicago Bulls, we’re going to take a closer look into a lot of the analytics and stats from each of the players on the roster heading into the 2020-21 season. Training Camp begins on Dec. 1 for the Bulls, with the preseason starting not too long after that.

The Bulls open up their preseason schedule at home at the United Center on Dec. 11, taking on superstar guard James Harden and the Houston Rockets.

Moreover, one of the most important players to the success of this rejuvenated Bulls team heading into the fourth year of the rebuild will be the 25-year-old 6-foot-6 and 200 pound shooting guard Zach LaVine. Newly hired former Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan could have a star in the making on his hands with LaVine, but it’s too early to tell how they will fit together.

What we can analyze is how LaVine game and past production/efficiency can fit into the bigger picture for the Bulls heading into the 2020-21 season. As far as LaVine’s game goes, it’s mostly driven by his production on offense. But his game is continuing to ever so slightly improve on the defensive end of the floor in recent years too.

Here’s a look at how LaVine’s game is trending on the offensive end first.

Chicago Bulls offensive production from LaVine

LaVine played in 60 games during the shortened 2019-20 regular season for the Bulls (all of which he started in). In terms of his offensive per game stats, he averaged 25.5 points per game, just 0.7 offensive rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 3.4 turnovers. LaVine shot 45.0 percent from the field, 38.0 percent from beyond the arc, and 80.2 percent from the free-throw line.

That was good for an effective field goal percentage of 52.6 and a 56.8 true shooting percentage. His true shooting percentage last season was down about one percentage point from the previous year. But his effective field goal percentage was up by about 0.6 percentage points.

And although his offensive rebounding numbers seem low from last season, 0.7 per game is actually a career high for LaVine. His points per game mark just shy of 26 was also good to shatter his previous career best of 23.7 from the 2018-19 season.

In terms of the advanced metrics on offense, LaVine was pretty solid too. He registered a career-best 3.2 offensive box plus/minus rating, 2.4 value over replacement player rating, 1.8 offensive win shares, and a 106 offensive rating. If the Bulls played a complete regular season schedule, LaVine likely would’ve had a career high in offensive win shares last season.

The other key advanced stats on offense for LaVine included a career-best 2.1 offensive rebounding percentage, 21.7 assist percentage, and 13.3 turnover percentage. While his turnover percentage from last season was lower than the prior year, his assist percentage was too. Improving the assist-to-turnover ratio will be a key for LaVine heading into next season.

Turning the focus to shooting, LaVine was pretty efficient last season. He was two percent lower in the league-adjusted shooting average in field goal shooting, but six percent better from downtown, and four percent better from the charity stripe. LaVine was essentially on par with the league average for effective field goal and true shooting percentage.

There’s not a whole lot that needs to change with LaVine’s shooting percentages from where we saw them at last season. Although improvement is always welcome.

Chicago Bulls defensive production from LaVine

Here’s where most of the question marks start to surface for LaVine’s game, on the defensive end of the floor. He is improving in recent years, but not at a clip that a lot of pundits and fans expected out of him. Given the insane physical tools and athleticism of LaVine, there’s not a good excuse for why he’s not a good on-ball defender, especially on the perimeter.

Last season, LaVine registered career highs in each of the following per game stats: defensive rebounds (4.1), steals (1.5), and blocks (0.5). All of that bodes well for the direction of LaVine’s game on defense. He also registered a career-best 110 defensive rating, -0.8 defensive box plus/minus rating, and 2.2 defensive win shares. All of those advanced metrics were good for career highs for LaVine.

Whether all of those career best defensive numbers for LaVine were a product of the situation from former head coach Jim Boylen’s blitzing style aggressive defensive scheme, or it was him actually improving his game on that end, is yet to be known.

Some of the finer points of LaVine’s advanced stats on defense from last season included a 13.8 defensive rebounding percentage, and career bests with a 2.0 steal percentage and 1.3 block percentage. LaVine should be good in the departments of steal and block percentage from here on out.

All-encompassing metrics for Chicago Bulls’ LaVine

LaVine finished second on the team last season with a 2.4 box plus/minus rating, to go along with .091 win shares per 48 minutes, 19.4 player efficiency rating, and four total win shares. He led the team in win shares.

Moreover, LaVine tied for 108th in the NBA last season in 538’s wins above replacement (2.8) and was tied for 134th in the league in total RAPTOR (-0.1). Those aren’t great numbers for LaVine, and it goes to show how far he still has to go to reach that true level of stardom.

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There’s a lot of excitement brewing for what the Bulls could get out of LaVine this season. He has only continued to improve his game since landing with the Bulls more than three years ago. We’ll have to wait and see if his game continues to trend up heading into the 2020-21 season.