Bulls’ Zach LaVine Receives Truth Bomb After Max Contract

Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls

Getty Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls shoots a free throw.

Pressure bursts pipes. But it is also necessary to create diamonds. In that sense, this coming season figures to serve as a referendum on Chicago Bulls star Zach LaVine. Despite two All-Star nods, an Olympic gold medal, and other individual accolades and milestones, there is a glaring hole in his resume in the eyes of critics.

Playoff success has eluded LaVine to this point – he hadn’t even made the postseason until this past year.

He has dismissed the notion of greater expectations but the reality for LaVine, who also signed a five-year $215 million this summer, is that the pressure is about to be turned up a notch. He has said that he is going to go about his business as usual.

That’s great as long as the results come in some critical areas.

Zach LaVine Must Step Up

“It’s no longer enough for LaVine to be a splendid scorer,” says The Athletic’s Darnell Mayberry. “He too must continue growing defensively, improve his decision-making, his late-game execution, and his leadership. LaVine is the team’s highest-paid player, the face of the franchise, and now its chief building block.”

LaVine is third on Mayberry’s list of Bulls players with the most to prove. But there are 215 million reasons to think he could and perhaps should be a little higher. Mayberry points to LaVine falling behind teammate DeMar DeRozan in the pecking order amid nagging injuries, one of which required offseason surgery.

But the two were nearly neck and neck before that.

LaVine averaged 25.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 4.3 assists before aggravating his knee against the Golden State Warriors on January 14 – the same game Lonzo Ball got injured.

He was shooting 49.1% from the floor, 41.2% on threes, and 87.2% at the free-throw line.

DeRozan was averaging 26 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.7 assists while slashing .492/.352/.848 in that same span. The 13-year veteran still has the statistical edge in some categories. But it’s not as though there was a large gap between the two.

LaVine is Not Settling

Mayberry says that this is LaVine’s best chance to prove he can lead a team deep into the postseason. But few prognosticators believe the Bulls are among the elite in the Eastern Conference including him.

Some have them fighting to make the Play-In Tournament after a busy offseason for the other teams around them.

The Bulls are banking on health and internal development.

To his credit, LaVine has remained in the gym working to refine his game. There will be some who would prefer he shared videos of himself working on his defense – we don’t know that he hasn’t drilled it tirelessly as well.

There is something to be said for building upon a strength instead of developing a weakness from the ground up, especially as he enters his ninth season.

And there is reason to believe that he will be better on that end with better health too.

Personnel Matters for LaVine

The Bulls were still able to coax efficiency differentials ranked in the 83rd and 96th percentiles from lineups that featured LaVine without Ball, per Cleaning the Glass. The key was Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu, and to a lesser degree Javonte Green.

Caruso and Dosunmu figure to be the primary options to replace Ball who is expected to miss the early going of next season.

But their best group defensively featured Dosunmu at the 2 with Coby White at point guard.

The wildcard in all of this is Patrick Williams who got injured five games into the regular season and then returned well after LaVine was having to manage his knee pain. Williams has been viewed as a key to unlocking a higher ceiling for the Bulls. But, in many ways, that burden falls on LaVine and the Bulls to put the proper pieces around him.

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