Lately, Chicago has been rolling. They're playing great basketball and have a stronger rhythm than they've had at any point in the last two seasons. The players seem to actually know their roles and it shows on the court. But that poses a question about the elephant in the room — what are the Bulls going to do about Zach LaVine?
Without Zach, the ball has moved much better and the team in general has a better flow. Without him, the Bulls are 8-3 over their last 11 games. During this current stretch, they're averaging 117.9 points (up 11.7 points per game through the first 19 games) and 26.8 assists (up 4.9 assists per game).
Coby White has taken control of this offense and is flat-out ballin'. During LaVine's absence, he's averaging 24.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 6.4 assists. These numbers are such a ridiculous improvement that it's hard to believe; even Derrick Rose during his MVP campaign didn't match these numbers. I'm not sure if Coby can keep this up for long stretches, especially playing almost 40 minutes per contest, but right now he's taking charge of this team and looks more confident than ever before.
Before Zach went on an indefinite hiatus, Coby was clearly less confident and doubted his actions on the court. LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic each demand a sizeable amount of touches and shots, so there was significantly less room for error for White on offense. Since Coby is not a traditional point guard, he struggled. Keep in mind Patrick Williams is also playing for a new contract, mix all this together and you have a recipe for a stagnant offense and a disastrous waste of White's talent.
White's pick-and-roll with Vucevic is particularly effective because Nikola can roll to the rim or pop out on the three-point line, which makes it hard to defend. Also, they can do it quite often, because Coby is the main creator on the team right now.
Zach's absence has also opened up opportunities for Patrick Williams, who finally looks like something, you would've expected from the beginning of the season. During the last 10-game stretch, he's averaged 14.4 points, 5 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game, while shooting 52.4% from the field. He looks more engaged, his drives are sharper, and he shoots with more confidence. When comparing how Patrick looked at the beginning of the season and how he's looking now, it's like we have two different people on our hands.
Now, the question is, what should Chicago do from here?
The Bulls must decide whether to trade Zach LaVine for pennies on the dollar or risk bringing him back into the rotation.
Zach is the top-paid player on the team and is the second-leading scorer, averaging 16 shots per game and having a usage rate of 25.5%. His best attribute is scoring, so you would need to give him the ball. He plays a lot of iso situations, which stops the ball and takes away shots from Coby and Patrick.
He's often caught unaware defensively, so it will create additional issues. His presence leaves fewer minutes in the rotation for Chicago's key developmental pieces such as Patrick Williams, Ayo Dosunmu, and Dalen Terry.
This current Chicago stretch, I believe, makes it harder for the team to trade LaVine. The Bulls have been much better without him, which will likely scare away contending teams. Tanking teams also have no use for him, as acquiring LaVine will require sending away future assets and potentially ruining rebuild plans. So what's left?
There have been talks about potential trades involving teams like the Lakers, 76ers, Kings, and Cavaliers, but is trading for Zach really enough to make any of these teams a true championship contender? If he could come off the bench for a contender, then maybe they would take a flyer. But it's unlikely to happen, knowing his salary and status. I'm not sure if, at this point in his career, he would accept that bench player role.
For better or worse, it seems that Chicago is stuck with him at the moment. LaVine's comeback is looming and it'll be interesting to see how Chicago will handle that, as the way this situation plays out may ultimately decide the Bulls' fate for years to come.