Zach LaVine must take the reigns and become the Bulls’ leader

Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

Leading up to this offseason, the pressure was on the Chicago Bulls to court their star guard Zach LaVine and convince him to return on a contract extension. Fortunately, money talks and LaVine re-signed in the end; However, his historic payday has come with a fair bit of baggage. The pressure has now shifted onto LaVine’s shoulders, as the Bulls will need him to live up to the massive price they paid to keep him around.

So far, LaVine has given the fans little reason to doubt him. The Bulls took a risk committing to him in 2018, but LaVine continued to add things to his game and make significant leaps in his development each season. Within the span of one four-year contract, Zach progressed from being an average starting shooting guard to becoming a bonafide top 25 player in the NBA today.

If that sounds dramatic, I promise you there’s no exaggeration here on my end.

  • 2018: 16.7 PTS,  3.9 REB, 3 AST, 44.2 eFG%
  • 2019: 23.7 PTS, 4.7 REB, 4.5 AST,  52.0 eFG%
  • 2020: 25.5 PTS, 4.8 REB, 4.2 AST, 52.6 eFG%
  • 2021: 27.4 PTS, 5 REB, 4.9 AST, 59.6 eFG%

Despite the fact that LaVine has truly come into his own here in the Windy City, it hasn’t stopped notoriously pessimistic beat writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, Joe Cowley, from putting out a condescending piece regarding the expectations for LaVine moving forward.

“Becoming the 17th-highest-paid player in the NBA when he’s not even the best player on his team,” says Cowley, “Will be uncharted territory.” While Cowley seems to be in his typically dour mood regarding the Bulls, I regret to say that he’s not actually wrong here.

Any road to championship contention for the Chicago Bulls runs through Zach LaVine.

While Zach had been on a solid upward trajectory in his first four seasons with the Bulls, 2021-22 saw his production dip for the first time. This could be attributed to a wide variety of factors, but among the most likely explanations is LaVine’s battle with injury and COVID disrupted his rhythm.

After refusing arthroscopic surgery for his knee and treatment for a ligament tear in his thumb until the season was over, the list of roadblocks for LaVine continued to pile up, including missing time on multiple occasions due to COVID protocols. This should very likely explain why his stats dropped to 24.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game after an incredibly successful 2020-21 campaign.

Still, the possibility still remains that the injuries were just a convenient mask for the real root of the problem. A far more worrisome cause could be that LaVine isn’t capable of playing alongside another high-usage player. Even though he was efficient back in Minnesota, it’s true that LaVine never evolved enough to average 20 or more points per game until he joined a talent-depleted Bulls roster.

DeMar DeRozan, on the other hand, stepped up to deliver the single best season of his career. DeRozan has never played with a player as offensively-talented as LaVine, and it became immediately clear how much Zach’s assistance positively affected DeMar’s ability to dominate the floor. Unfortunately, DeRozan isn’t getting any younger, so the only way up for this team is for LaVine to assume the reigns.

This issue is of course compounded by the fact that LaVine is now making main option money, so I understand why some people like Cowley would feel rather pessimistic about his odds. Until we see LaVine at full health once more, it will be impossible to dispel the idea sitting in the back of our minds regarding his ability to be the main option on a contending team.

That being said, the Chicago Bulls were rewarded for gambling on LaVine back in 2018. I still believe he can once again make these reactionary takes look foolish in 2022.

Next. Ranking the top 10 guards in Bulls history. dark