The Chicago Bulls could be “scary” to go against this season. With their dynamic scoring duo back at full strength, DeMar DeRozan thinks they will give their opponents fits similar to how they did in the first half of last season.
Teammate Zach LaVine’s health is key to DeRozan’s assertion.
“I can’t tell you how many times I talked to him this summer just checking on him,” DeRozan said during Bulls Media Day. “I want to be with a healthy Zach. A full year of that is something I dream about every single night. A healthy Zach makes our lives a lot easier.” (h/t Sam Smith/NBA.com)
LaVine appeared in 67 games last season but missed 13 of the final 42 after aggravating a knee injury that required surgery this summer.
A Healthy LaVine is ‘Scary’
“I feel really good,” LaVine told reporters after signing his five-year, $215 million max contract this summer. “Being able to rehab a lot of the summer and then get back into training; having a small invasive surgery like that and being able to get back to 100 percent was all I was looking for.”
Last season, LaVine finished as one of five players to average at least 24 points, 4.0 assists, and 4.0 rebounds while shooting 38% or better from beyond the arc last season.
He was even better before the injury averaging 25.6 points and shooting 41.2% from deep.
“It can be very exciting and scary for other people…A lot of my load last year was Zach being out. We always talked about making things easier on one another. Being so up and down and not having each other made it tough on both of us. Having a healthy Zach and healthy me makes our job and everybody’s else job around us a lot easier.”
Before LaVine’s knee flared up, his and DeRozan’s usage rates were within 0.5% of one another.
They were separated by more than 4% afterward.
DeRozan Gives LaVine his Flowers
The Bulls were the only team to boast two top-10 scorers at their peak. But DeRozan’s workload often turned into iso-ball possessions. That became the Bulls’ identity as much as anything else down the stretch last season.
But, to DeRozan’s point, a healthy LaVine changes a lot for the Bulls’ outlook this season even amid the uncertainty surrounding Lonzo Ball.
“Zach is one of those guys to where he don’t get his just due,” DeRozan said on “The Old Man and The Three” podcast. “I believe…he’s top-five, top-10 talent in our league with the things he’s able to do. It’s nothing he cannot do. Athletically, he’s one of the best athletes in our league. He can shoot the ball from anywhere. He can get to the basket. Everything, he’s doing it.”
DeRozan, who revealed that LaVine told him he was staying in Chicago last summer, went on to say that he often tells Lavine that he’s envious of what he’s able to do because he makes it look so “easy”.
As Smith points out, LaVine has competed in both the Slam Dunk and Three-Point competitions.
“It makes no sense the God-gifted ability that he have,” DeRozan said. You can’t teach what he have.”
LaVine’s Next Step
LaVine has made it a point to note his progress from year to year when asked about the added pressure his max contract will bring. To his credit, that showed on the defensive end during the 2020 Olympics and at the beginning of last season.
On top of his injury, Ball’s absence hurt LaVine and the team as a whole on defense.
It will be interesting to see what kind of defender he will be now that he is healthy but Ball is not and likely won’t be, the team hopes, until the start of a new calendar year.
There are others in the mix to give some cover – Alex Caruso and Ayo Dosunmu will do a lot of the heavy defensive lifting. But LaVine has shown a willingness to take on the challenge of the other team’s best scorer and lock them up. The Bulls will need that version now more than ever from their two-time All-Star.
After playing in the NBA for 8 yrs Zach should understand that defense is more than locking up 1 man. He should be able to read and react to several different offensive schemes that each team deploys. His help defense should be @ next level if the Bulls are to build a solid defensive unit without Lonzo Ball. Zach should lead the team in stls and blk shots as a perimeter defender. If we watch another year of Sniper Zach on one end while playing ole defense on the other, the Bulls season is in trouble unless Billy Donovan inserts Coby White in to play more mins as Zach’s bkup.