The Chicago Bulls are facing a very difficult offseason. It’s one where the front office has to decide if it’s going to double down on a core that hasn’t moved past the first round of the playoffs or give up on hefty investments.
Following the Phoenix Suns’ second-round loss to the Finals-bound Denver Nuggets, Sean Deveney, Heavy, looked at the Suns’ options for Deandre Ayton after another underwhelming playoff performance. The Bulls were linked as potential trade partners since they need to make a decision on a possible extension for Nikola Vucevic. As one NBA general manager told Deveney:
"“It’s a tough market for trading centers, though. [Phoenix] are about to find that out. The team that might be the most interesting getting into that mix is Chicago, and I’ve heard [Ayton’s] on the list, at least. Lot still depends on the [draft] lottery.”"
This signals that Arturas Karnisovas is considering potentially moving on from the aging big man and moving in another direction. Additionally, the Suns wouldn’t be interested in a Nikola Vucevic sign-and-trade. If the Bulls were involved, they’d have to part with DeMar DeRozan.
This could also mean the front office is content moving on from the isolation-heavy offense that DeRozan and Vucevic bring to the team and the report adds that Chicago is open to reshaping its roster around Zach LaVine as the clear number one go-to option.
Can Zach LaVine really be the number one option for the Bulls?
After undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in the offseason, LaVine signed a five-year, $215.2 million deal, solidifying his future in Chicago. Despite some mid-season issues including his lack of defense, a “strained” relationship with Billy Donovan, and a bevy of trade rumors, LaVine is still with the Bulls.
It’s a promising sign for Bulls fans that they’re considering working this roster around the scoring wing. At 28 years old, Zach LaVine should have his best years in the NBA still ahead of him for the next few seasons. After averaging 27.4 points per game in the 2020-21 season, fans have seen him put the ball in the basket at a high level and can only imagine how much room is left for him to grow.
This most recent season, LaVine averaged 24.8 points a night while shooting 49% from the floor, 38% from 3-point range, and 85% at the free throw line. Those figures are hyper-efficient and if the offense was focused on him, there’s reason to believe he could elevate those counting stats closer to what we saw from him in the 2020-21 season.
Zach LaVine put up 121.9 points per 100 shot attempts according to Cleaning the Glass, a figure that puts him in the 80th percentile among all wings. He shoots well above average across the floor and his ability to create efficient shots at the rim is a promising sign for an injury-riddled player who’s only going to get healthier (fingers crossed).
One promising element for LaVine’s future as a go-to option (if that’s the direction the Bulls go) is his supreme self-created production. He’s near the bottom of the league in assisted made 3-pointers with 65 percent of his triples coming off a pass and 43 percent of his shots at the rim assisted. When he did get assisted on a basket, it was off the advantages created by his co-stars.
In the 2022-23 season, LaVine received 62 assists from DeMar and 59 from Vooch via PBP Stats. A lot of those assists came as one of the two post-up players created an advantage or drew more defensive attention, then Zach was there to finish the play:
With his shooting touch and athleticism, these plays are hyper-efficient. LaVine can barrel his way to the rim with a weaker defender backpedaling and while he can’t sky as high as his dunk contest days, he’s still able to score at the rim in several different ways.
A lot of his other assists came after one of the guards initiated a play. Alex Caruso and Coby White would start an action and then find LaVine as the defenders tried to help the primary movement:
In the best season of his career, the 2020-21 season, LaVine was in the 97th percentile of the percentage of shots assisted at 41 percent. He trailed only Luka Doncic, LeBron James, and Jimmy Butler in that department among wings.
Since then, the new front office has taken over and surrounded him with All-Stars. It’d be interesting to see how he’d play now, not only after several injuries, but after seasons without really changing his game much.
The evidence of LaVine taking (back) the reigns as a go-to scorer is promising. Could he flourish as the next heliocentric guard carrying his team to the playoffs like James Harden and Doncic? He doesn’t have the same track record of success as those guys, but he also hasn’t had the chance to test this scheme like those two stars.
With not much roster flexibility, maybe the best-case scenario for the Chicago Bulls moving forward is tearing everything down and giving LaVine the keys to the offense. If Vooch and DeMar are replaced by defensive role players and a center like Deandre Ayton who doesn’t need the ball in his hands, the Bulls might finally escape the first round of the playoffs.
On the other side of the coin, if Zach LaVine can’t be “the guy” or his regular 10-20 missed games tank Chicago’s regular season record, the front office would look foolish for trading DeRozan and letting Vucevic walk.
But if they don’t move now, Father Time will eventually catch the two All-Stars and LaVine might be aged out of his prime. Welcome to the Bulls’ version of a rock and a hard place where all the options may yield futile results.