Zach LaVine Sends Strong Message to Rest of League Amid Hot Streak

Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls

Getty Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls.

Opponents of the Chicago Bulls beware: Zach LaVine is back.

“They get scared,” LaVine said of his defenders during what has been an impressive run, per Julia Poe of the Chicago Tribune. “I can see it when they’re backing up. They know I’m coming at them.”

LaVine has been on a tear averaging 29.4 points on 66.8% true shooting with 4.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists over the last 16 games.

Over his last five games, LaVine has upped it to 35.0 points on 69.9% true shooting while knocking down 51.4% of his threes. The stretch includes two 40-plus-point performances and, most recently, a 36-point display in a win over the Houston Rockets that saw the two-time All-Star get off to a hot start with 11 first-quarter points.

He tacked on another nine points in the second quarter.

“I’m just being aggressive,” LaVine said, per Poe. “The first half, I felt like we just needed that. It kind of got me tired, but that’s why we have DeMar [DeRozan] and [Nikola Vucevic] and [Patrick Williams] and Coby [White] and all these guys.”

Neither White nor Williams’ usage has really changed in this window (through February 3) while Vucevic’s usage rate has actually risen by 2.8%. But DeRozan’s has fallen – almost by an identical measure of 2.9% – in that span as LaVine’s has risen by 2.4% to overtake him for the top spot in the pecking order.

Bulls head coach Billy Donovan says that is just the natural progression.

“It’s not like, ‘Hey, yeah, we’re running a lot more plays for Zach,’” Donovan told Poe. “I think he’s recognizing those opportunities — in transition, in the half court, when the ball’s getting swung to him — to create and take advantage.”

Whatever the impetus, It is likely a welcomed development for a front office that will be facing major questions after this season that their $215 million star has found his rhythm.

Zach LaVine’s Surge Gives Bulls Clarity

DeRozan has just one more season on his contract and, while he could very well sign another contract with the Bulls, they could also look to move on from the 33-year-old who could be in search of a better chance at title contention before he hangs it up. The same could be said for Vucevic who has said he will explore his options as an unrestricted free agent this summer.

That leaves a lot of questions about what next year’s Bulls team will look like.

After an admittedly slow start to the season thanks to offseason knee surgery, however, it appears they will at least have the version of LaVine, 28, that we saw before injuries took their toll on him last season – injuries that sparked the Bulls’ reliance on DeRozan in the first place.

“It was DeMar, DeMar, DeMar,” Donovan said. “I think for Zach, with the offense changing, he’s had to find his comfort in it.”

Zach LaVine Focused on The Next Opponent

Whatever Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arutras Karnisovas has planned for the offseason, it will have to wait.

There are still 15 games left in the regular season and the Bulls have found their way back into the Play-In Tournament field winning three of their last five games. They did fall back into 11th sitting idle while the Washington Wizards notched a win over the Detroit Pistons but a win over the Sacramento Kings on March 15 would put them back on top.

With that, LaVine’s focus is on the Bulls’ next opponent and how they adapt to win the game.

“We better be able to [adapt],” LaVine said ahead of Wednesday’s tilt against Sacramento, per Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic. “You can’t take the same plan into each game, especially defensively.”

Chicago has notched quality wins over the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets and surprisingly feisty Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards. But they also have losses to the Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors as well as a heartbreaker versus the Indiana Pacers during a 5-3 return from the All-Star break.

Their ability to adapt to the challenge of the NBA’s ninth-toughest remaining schedule, per Tankathon, will define how the rest of this uneven campaign plays out.

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