Just in case you forgot, Zach LaVine is pretty good at this whole basketball thing. After a rough 104-113 showing in Toronto on Sunday, LaVine returned to the starting lineup to lead the Chicago Bulls to a dominant 111-97 victory against the Raptors last night. This victory bounces the Bulls back to a 6-6 record, a feat more impressive than it sounds all things considered.
With LaVine resting on the sidelines in the first game of the back-to-back, Toronto was determined to consistently double-team DeMar DeRozan and force someone else to beat them. This plan worked to perfection, as they held DeMar to just 20 points while his supporting cast struggled mightily, as every player not named DeRozan or Nikola Vucevic combined to shoot 37.8% from the field.
Seeing as how trapping DeMar worked so well the first time, the Raptors committed to the same gameplan on Monday. Fortunately, this time LaVine was around to provide the Bulls with another consistent offensive threat. LaVine single-handedly ruined Toronto’s gameplan this time, shredding their defense to the tune of 30 points and 5 assists on a very efficient 11-for-20 shooting from the field, including four 3-point bombs.
Many fans believed Billy Donovan was outcoached in the first game, but Toronto’s Nick Nurse appeared to be stubborn to a fault and was unwilling to switch from his original gameplan, even as LaVine caught fire in the second contest. The Raptors continued doubling DeMar late into the fourth quarter, despite a single-digit scoring performance from the veteran, making things all the easier for Zach.
Zach LaVine’s dominant offensive performance propelled the Chicago Bulls to a much-needed win against the Toronto Raptors.
If that’s how opposing teams are going to play the Bulls, I think this roster should welcome the challenge. With Goran Dragic looking ten times better than advertised and Coby White expected to make a return to the court sometime soon, Chicago should have a litany of offensive weapons to keep the pressure off of DeRozan.
No one stands to benefit as much as LaVine, however, after being forced to carry the scoring burden in Chicago on his shoulders for half of a decade now. Even if his raw total production takes a dip alongside DeRozan, he looks more efficient than ever. It’s no coincidence that LaVine earned his second All-Star nomination last season and looks primed for a third this season.
If anyone still has doubts about LaVine’s value to this team, this can likely be attributed to a fundamental misunderstanding of what a max contract player is really worth in today’s NBA. Many of critics of LaVine’s game seem to fall victim to the misconception that max contracts must be reserved for players who can be the top offensive option on a championship-caliber team.
This couldn’t be further from the truth, even if I understand where the sentiment comes from. Just take a look around the league, and you’ll notice Zach is only the 20th highest-paid player in the league — which feels fair given how he ranks amongst his peers. In fact, there are 43 players in the NBA currently making $30 million or more this season, a great many of whom are far less deserving of that massive payday than LaVine.
For a franchise that prides itself in historic names like Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman to Rose, Noah, and Butler, I understand why great expectations have fallen on the shoulders of LaVine. As much as I hope he can reach that ceiling, he doesn’t need to become an all-time great to justify his contract. There are only so many players that can average 25 points per game on excellent efficiency; even if the Bulls didn’t want to pay LaVine that money, somebody was going to simply because that’s just where his value is at.
As long as the Chicago Bulls keep piling on the wins, I doubt buyer’s remorse is going to set in any time soon. Frustrating as it may be to see LaVine rest back-to-backs, keeping him healthy and protecting this massive investment is definitely Chicago’s best plan of action this season. By the time the playoffs roll around, this Bulls team may be more dangerous than anyone expects.