After dropping a combined 77 points on the 76ers and Jazz in his last two contests, any critics of Zach LaVine’s ability to lead the Chicago Bulls have become noticeably quiet as of late. Racking up 8 wins in their last 11 games (and it would have been 10 wins, if L2M reports actually counted for anything), the Bulls finally look the part of playoff contenders again thanks in large part to Zach’s recent efforts.
This isn’t new territory for LaVine. After spending the summer recuperating from injuries in 2019, Zach averaged ‘just’ 22.2 points on 43.1% shooting to start the season in October and November. Of course, he’d go on to finish the season averaging All-Star numbers of 27.2 points on 45.8% from the field. As it turns out, Bulls fans could perhaps stand to benefit from having just a little patience with their star talent from time to time.
What separates this year from back then is obviously a different level of expectations from the talent on this squad. The Bulls won a meager 22 games in 2019-20, so it didn’t matter when LaVine was slow to get started. Fast forward a few years, however, and the Bulls are now trying to improve on a 46-36 season and make a return trip to the postseason. Every single thing that LaVine does from here on out is going to be put under the magnifying glass as Chicago tries clawing their way back into the playoff picture.
If we’re going to overanalyze every losing streak and poor performance, LaVine deserves the credit when he can’t seem to do any wrong as well. That includes when he drilled a franchise-record 11 (yes, you read that correctly) threes and lifted the Chicago Bulls to a big win against the 76ers on Friday.
If Zach LaVine can continue his current level of play, the Chicago Bulls’ odds of making a repeat postseason appearance look very solid.
Stephen Noh has become one of my favorite follows online over the past few years thanks to his excellent in-depth coverage and play-by-play analysis of the Chicago Bulls. Here he highlights how LaVine’s increased defensive effort has helped him disrupt plays and is leading to more scoring opportunities on the other end.
On top of the solid defensive effort, LaVine is also clearly looking to get his teammates involved more often for high-percentage shot opportunities.
What makes this stretch of games truly impressive, however, isn’t that it’s just been an improvement from his play earlier this season. No, LaVine is now playing at a level comparable to his absolute peak. Relative to his pair of All-Star seasons, Zach is playing at an absolutely elite caliber.
- 2020-21 (All-Star): 27.4 PTS, 4.9 AST, 5.0 REB, 50.7 FG%, 41.9 3P%
- 2021-22 (All-Star): 24.4 PTS, 4.5 AST, 4.6 REB, 47.6 FG%, 38.9 3P%
- Last 11 Games: 26.9 PTS, 4.5 AST, 4.3 REB, 52.8 FG%, 50.0 3P%
The fact that LaVine has returned to his 2020-21 form is not only a testament to his work ethic and bounce back from injury, but also demonstrates that he’s more than capable of playing at an elite level alongside DeMar DeRozan. Although critics have claimed their skill sets to be redundant next to each other, it’s clear to see that having two elite offensive options in the starting lineup is allowing LaVine and DeRozan to each play the best basketball of their careers.
Coming from the same city whose media manufactured a feud between former stars Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, I can’t exactly say I’m surprised to see the narrative of LaVine and DeRozan’s incompatibility continually pop up.
Where else in the NBA is having two top-25 scorers an issue? Boston, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Cleveland all employ a two-headed dragon system on offense and yet comprise four of the top five seeds in the East. For those who don’t have a reliable second option — looking at you, Dallas — they’re desperately looking to trade for one.
The issue has never been that the Bulls’ players don’t fit together. The real problem is that they’ve had a difficult time communicating and resolving their issues to get on the same page and play well at the same time. Ever since that locker room dispute in Minnesota, the revolving door of good performances from Chicago’s star trio seems to have at long last come to an end.
Whether or not the team’s recent success is sustainable remains to be seen, but something tells me that as long as LaVine continues dropping a hyper-efficient 25+ points per game while leading by example with his passing and defense, the Chicago Bulls will also continue to win more often than they lose.