Zach LaVine Highlights Underlying Reason for Bulls’ Offensive Struggles

Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls

Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls.

The Chicago Bulls (26-33) boast the seventh-best defense in the league, per

Unfortunately for them, they are also 24th in offense leaving them 20th – the bottom third – in the association in net rating with the seventh-worst record. More importantly, it has them on the outside of the Play-In Tournament looking in.

“Something isn’t working, obviously,” Zach LaVine said per K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago after the Bulls’ 112-100 loss to the second-seeded Milwaukee Bucks on February 16. “We changed our offense a little bit this year from last year. But it’s no excuse with the type of talent that we have on the team.”

Last season, the Bulls finished the campaign with the 13th-ranked offense but their defense ranked 23rd. There was a buzz during training camp and the preseason about the Bulls’ focusing on ball and player movement to keep defenses off-balance. They are averaging roughly 23 more passes per game this season compared to last season but it has only yielded 0.3 more assists and 1.1 more points from assists per game.

“Some games we’re really good. Some games we’re bad,” LaVine contained. “Once again, it’s that consistency factor of figuring out what our identity is and what we’re going to each game.”

LaVine has worked his way into mid-season form after a slow start but has had some costly turnovers in high-leverage situations. He has said they often happen when he is trying to make the right decision which could just highlight the need for a table-setting point guard.

They have to hope they can manufacture the inverse of their finish to 2022.

To date, that has not been the case.But, to LaVine’s point, no one is blaming the changing of offensive principles or even Lonzo Ball’s absence for the team’s shaky play.

Lonzo Ball’s Absence is the Elephant in the Room

It is notable that they were the fifth-best offense (18th-best defense) before Ball went down with a knee injury that has continued to keep him sidelined indefinitely. Chicago fell to 20th offensively and 26th defensively (21st in net rating) after Ball went down. They fell even further – 25th in offense and defense, 28th net – after last year’s All-Star break.

“I can’t wait until he gets back because when he gets the ball, he looks up and throws it ahead,” LaVine told the crew on TNT’s Inside the NBA before the Bulls’ 108-99 win over the Brooklyn Nets on November 1. “He’s the glue to our team offensively and defensively.”

The Bulls ranked in the 90th percentile in transition offense last season with Ball on the floor, albeit for just 35 games, per Cleaning The Glass.

They ranked in the 63rd percentile in transition without him last season and are in the 35th percentile this season.

“Even if guys are in and out of the lineup, you see some teams that have consistency with what they do. They have an identity. That’s something we’re still trying to figure out in these last couple years.”

That search for an identity has them exploring their options in a light free agent class.

Bulls Attacking their Playmaking Issue

The Bulls have had discussions with Utah Jazz point guard Russell Westbrook who is widely expected to secure a buyout (or be waived) by March 1, the last day a waived player can be playoff eligible meaning they need to be on an active roster by the end of business that day.

Westbrook has ties to Bulls head coach Billy Donovan who has remained complimentary of the player he coached to an MVP in 2017.

But how does LaVine feel about another strong, polarizing personality possibly being added?

“Russ is a future Hall of Famer, man,” LaVine said per Johnson. “I think you can only respect what he’s done in this league,” LaVine said. “Any player, if he so happens to come on the team, he’d be welcomed with open arms. If he’s not, you compete against him. He’s a fierce competitor. You can do nothing but respect that.”

For what it’s worth, the Lakers’ transition offense ranked in the 48th percentile with Westbrook – who has also been in communication with the Los Angeles Clippers and Miami Heat both of whom offer a better shot at title contention or location than the Bulls – and 51st without.

The Bulls have also been in contact with Chicago native Patrick Beverley and former Clippers, Washington Wizards, and Houston Rockets (twice) point guard John Wall.

This could be viewed as hedging in the event they don’t land Westbrook, their clear top option.

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