Should Bulls fans be worried about Zach LaVine?

Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) /

It’s been no secret that the Chicago Bulls haven’t lived up to expectations so far in the 2022-23 season. After making its first playoff appearance since 2017 last season, the team currently sits at 9-11, good for 11th in the much improved Eastern Conference.

While it is still early in the season, 20 games is a large enough sample to give fans a reasonable idea of what the team is. On the surface, it’s easy to identify several issues that are holding the Bulls back. Lonzo Ball’s injury, little development from Patrick Wiliams, and the low volume of three-point attempts are just a few of the many underlying causes of the team’s struggles.

However, one of the biggest worries for the Bulls’ going forward has been the play of star shooting guard Zach LaVine. First and foremost, no one is suggesting that LaVine is no longer a good player in today’s NBA. He is still a high-quality starter and outside of DeMar DeRozan, Chicago’s most reliable offensive weapon. But with great talent comes great responsibility.

It wouldn’t be fair to hold LaVine to the standard as the average NBA player since he is proven consistently in his time in Chicago that he is far more than that. Instead, he is being held to the five-year, $215 million super-max contract standard he signed this past offseason.

The Chicago Bulls are struggling to win games without their star guard and arguably most reliable offensive weapon — Zach LaVine.

So far, LaVine has been underwhelming, showing regression in several key statistical areas. Most notably, his 20.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per game are the lowest since his first season in Chicago. Additionally, LaVine’s 40.4 field goal percentage marks a career worst. LaVine’s performance so far this season is a far cry from his play the past two seasons that earned him all-star nods.

In all fairness to LaVine, he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery following the Bulls’ first-round playoff exit last season. Making a complete recovery from such a significant procedure in a single offseason is a tall task for almost anyone. But as the season continues to progress, the more worrisome LaVine’s regression will become.

At 27 years old, LaVine is supposed to be entering his athletic prime, and the massive contract the Bulls dished out to him expressed great confidence in his continued growth as a player. With that said, it’s worth wondering how multiple serious knee surgeries could permanently impact a player whose game is largely predicated on his athleticism and explosion.

It may be considered a little premature to hit the panic button on a player only 15 games after arthroscopic surgery, but it’s hard to argue that much of what LaVine has shown so far this season has done anything to dispel the worries many had entering the season. Very seldom do knee problems fully go away for a player, so this is likely to be something LaVine will have to manage for the remainder of his career.

At the end of the day, the Chicago Bulls’ best chance at turning things around this year is getting Zach LaVine to get back to playing at an all-star level. With the current playoff format, the Bulls only need to finish top ten in the East to have a chance at securing a playoff bid. Still, it’s hard to be patient in today’s NBA. With both DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic being north of 30, it feels like the team’s win-now window is starting to close. It’s up to LaVine to re-open it.

Next. Can the Bulls win a title with Vucevic at center?. dark