If Chicago Bulls fans have noticed a different bounce in Zach LaVine’s step over the past few games, they aren’t alone. The two-time All-Star (and face of the franchise who was endowed with a Bulls-record $215 million contract) has noticed it too.
This has already been a season of ups and downs for LaVine, a two-time Slam Dunk champion who has had to fight off the label of putting up numbers on a losing team.
The only way to do that was to win which the Bulls did to start last season.
But things slowed and that continued into this season leading to speculation over LaVine’s health following offseason knee surgery. It also led to reported meetings with teammates and a locker room “blowup” aimed at the guard as his play had not caught back up to his reputation or his unwavering confidence.
LaVine Back in Form
“I’m feeling better,” LaVine said according to NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson. “The first 10 or 15 games coming off injury, you’re going to have some ups and downs. So I expected it. I understand it. I feel good. The last 10, 15 games, I felt like myself.”
LaVine has gone from averaging 22.2 points on 57% true shooting over his first 11 appearances with four missed games due to injury management.
Since going 1-for-14 in a 108-107 loss to the Orlando Magic, however, he is averaging 23.3 points on 58.7% true shooting and things have gotten even better since the reported blowup that took place at halftime of their 150-126 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
But, let LaVine tell it, it was just a matter of time before his game came back to him.
“Until training camp, I didn’t pick up a basketball,” LaVine admitted. “So not jumping or working out or doing anything you usually do during the offseason to prepare yourself for the season, I pretty much got that on the run during games.”
We did see glimpses of LaVine getting in workouts over the summer but no live-action runs until he got back with his teammates in camp.
During the Bulls’ three-game winning streak, LaVine is averaging 25.3 PPG on 65.5% true shooting while also knocking down 42.1% of his triples. Most importantly, based on the reports regarding the source of his teammates’ ire, LaVine has averaged 5.0 assists to just 1.3 turnovers.
This turn of events is why the talk of the Bulls blowing it up is on the back burner for now.
Bulls Not Bowing Out
Numerous rumors linking LaVine to other teams have been circulating since the summer and only got more fuel by the Bulls’ slow start. The powder keg seemed ready to blow with the news of the locker room’s frustrations, threatening to take this roster with it.
They are far from out of the woods. But they are still in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference where they sit just three games out of the six-seed.
“I think everybody goes through ups and downs, just like every team does,” LaVine said of the reported friction in the locker room. “Obviously if we’re not winning games, not everybody’s going to be happy. It’s not going to look as good as it was before. It’s all glitter and show when you’re winning games.”
He added that if he had any issues with his team or teammates, he would express them directly.
That does not always happen in the NBA but LaVine’s public push-back on the report and his returning burst bode well for the Bulls’ chances of sticking together.