Chicago Bulls: Zach LaVine should get more respect from the refs

You here it game in and game out when the Chicago Bulls are in season, star shooting guard Zach LaVine doesn’t get to the charity stripe as much as he should. But now we’ve got more concrete proof as to why he should be getting to the line more often. LaVine’s usage often doesn’t match up well with his free-throw attempt rate comparable to other top-tier guards in the NBA.

And that is something that can be very frustrating for both him and the fans alike. Even in a system where the Bulls picked up the pace a bit this season under first-year head coach Billy Donovan, LaVine was still left lagging behind in free-throw attempt rate compared to most other All-Star guards.

The very fact that LaVine just received his first career All-Star nod goes to show why he should be able to get to the line more often now than ever before. Usually, that is a good way for an emerging star (potentially superstar if he continues down the path he’s been on in recent years in terms of improvement) to get more respect from the refs game in and game out.

Yet, the numbers didn’t follow through for LaVine in terms of his ability to get to the free-throw line this season even after he got that tab as an All-Star for the first time.

Chicago Bulls star Zach LaVine still having trouble getting to the line

Getting to the free-throw line often was actually an issue for the Bulls backcourt rotation as a whole in the season that was. Second-year point guard Coby White also had a notoriously low free-throw attempt rate at just 15.7 percent, a one percent decline from his rookie campaign.

While LaVine’s star has gotten brighter over the course of the last four seasons, his free-throw attempt rate was on the decline almost every single year. His free-throw attempt rate got down to 26.5 percent this season, his lowest mark in four years.

In fact, LaVine is the only player in the NBA with a usage rate of at least 31 percent during the regular season that also had a free-throw attempt rate below 27 percent. Among all players that had that aforementioned usage rate of at least 31 percent, LaVine had the lowest free-throw attempt rate.

Now, one source of the declining free-throw attempt rate for LaVine is the lack of drives to the basket for him compared to the last few seasons. This season saw LaVine post a 42.5 percent three-point attempt rate, the second-highest mark of his career. And the one season where he shot more three pointers than this season (by rate per 100 attempts) was the campaign where he posted a career-low free-throw attempt rate at 19.7 percent.

That is a notable trend for LaVine that is worth considering. There is a trade off between having LaVine shoot more threes and allowing him to drive the lane more often and likely get to the free-throw line.

But even when you look at some of the numbers more closely broken down by play type, LaVine is lagging behind other guards. When penetrating on pick-and-roll plays, LaVine was also lagging behind a lot of other top guards around the NBA in free-throw attempt rate. Other All-Star guards like Damian Lillard and Luka Doncic get to the line well over 12 percent of the time they drive the lane on pick-and-roll plays.

On the other hand, LaVine got to the charity stripe roughly just nine percent of the time on pick-and-roll plays. Among the 10 guards that ran the most pick-and-roll plays as the ball handler in the NBA during the regular season, only Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell had a lower frequency of getting to the line than LaVine.

What is interesting is that both Mitchell and LaVine took more three pointers than usual during the regular season. Thus, that could be a source of the declining free-throw attempt rate for LaVine. But the problem with the correlation in free-throw attempts for Mitchell compared to LaVine is the fact that the Jazz’s two-time All-Star actually improved his rate by about five percent this season compared to last.

Maybe that could be a sign of things to come. A full season of work for LaVine coming off his first career All-Star selection could finally see the respect from the refs gradually increase. His free-throw attempt also largely looks to hinge on how many three pointers Donovan has him taking next season.

The Bulls finished up last season with a record of 31-41 in the first year with Donovan at the helm as head coach. That wound up in the team missing the postseason for the fourth straight year. LaVine still has yet to make the postseason in his seven-year long NBA career.