Chicago Bulls: Zach LaVine faces challenge against Marcus Smart

Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images))
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)) /

Heading into the Jan. 25 game against the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls star shooting guard Zach LaVine is averaging career highs in points, assists, and rebounds per game. He’s cemented himself in the All-Star conversation, helping the Bulls to a 7-9 record so far this season with his outstanding play.

Tonight’s game against the Celtics poses a new challenge: Marcus Smart.

Smart is known league wide for his defensive acumen, finishing sixth amongst all players in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season.

Smart’s aggressive on-ball defense puts the opposing team’s guard under pressure the moment the ball touches their hands. There’s no easy pass, clear drive to the hoop, or even any room to breathe when he’s guarding you.

Smart sits seventh in the league averaging 1.8 steals per game. His on ball pressure poses a new threat to LaVine, who’s seen his assist totals jump this season from 4.2 assists per game last season to 5.4 this year.

Diving deeper on Chicago Bulls SG LaVine vs. Smart

After the Los Angeles Lakers top ranked defense held LaVine to an atrocious four assists and seven turnovers on just 9-of-23 shooting Saturday night, a bounce-back performance could be huge for him and the emerging Bulls.

As poor as that performance from LaVine was, it took a team effort from the league’s top defense to slow down the Bulls’ star scorer. However, tonight the Celtics pose a different challenge.

This time LaVine isn’t facing a strong defensive scheme: he’s facing just one player who is determined to stop him.

As a whole, the Celtics are a mediocre defense, sitting 17th in Defensive Rating. Smart is a just one player, and if LaVine is a true superstar, he should be able to find some form of success despite one player’s defensive talents.

Last season, Smart and the Celtics held LaVine in check. In a Jan. 13 loss to the Celtics in 2020, LaVine totaled 30 points, but gave up six turnovers in their 113-101 defeat. That same game Marcus Smart came away with three steals, each coming from picking LaVine’s pocket.

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Those steals included this key fourth quarter take away and transition score to seal the Celtics’ victory.

LaVine has been locked up by Smart before. If he can overcome his scrappy defense tonight and help the Bulls bounce back from a tough loss against the Los Angeles Lakers, he can cement himself as a new and improved version of the player we saw struggle to hold on to the ball at times last season.