Bulls’ Zach LaVine Taking Realistic Approach to Long-Term Future

Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls

Getty Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls looks on.

The Chicago Bulls are surely happy to have Zach LaVine back healthy after he was dragged down by a knee injury last season. It ultimately cost him the decisive Game 5 in the playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks and require surgery this offseason.

Now, LaVine is taking the necessary precautions to make sure he is going to be good in the long run, not just this season, but in his career.

This was LaVine’s second knee surgery but he has dealt with numerous injuries in his career.

He is coming off of a preseason in which he hinted at not going full speed. While perhaps not a new approach, LaVine – who signed a five-year, $215 million max contract this offseason – was very open about his plans to keep performing at peak level which could include more days off during the season.

LaVine’s Maintenance Plan

Last season, LaVine made 67 appearances during the regular season; the most he’s made since 2016 when he played in all 82 games for the Minnesota Timberwolves. But he played through the knee injury in 29 of them. His effectiveness suffered for it even if he put up similar raw numbers.

LaVine went from 25.6 points on 61.3% true shooting and 41.2% from downtown to 23.7 points on 59.5% true shooting and hitting 36% of his triples.

He was still effective but not nearly as much of a threat as he was prior with his explosiveness all but gone post-injury. LaVine had previously explained that managing the knee required daily maintenance.

Following a recent practice, he acknowledged that he will have to continue with some regimen.

“I think that’s just the truth about it,” LaVine admitted to reporters. “I’ll have to manage it and go through different things before and after practice to make sure I’m feeling good every day. That’s life in basketball and guys getting older. I’ve had two knee surgeries now. I have to understand that I have to do the little extra things to make sure I’m feeling at my best every game.”

While there has been no talk from LaVine or head coach Billy Donovan of resting the two-time All-Star during the regular season, it has to be a possibility. If nothing else, the Bulls are planning to utilize a 10-man rotation that should reduce his minutes.

LaVine averaged 8.7 points on 39% shooting and 3.3 turnovers in just over 21 minutes per game this preseason leading some to question if there were any lingering issues from the knee.

LaVine’s previous comments suggest that was not the case.

“I just want to work my way into it, obviously coming off the knee. I’ve been feeling really good and don’t want to put any extra stress on there when I don’t need to. Felt good to get up and down. I feel fine. Want to keep it that way.” (h/t K.C. Johnson/NBC Sports Chicago)

He reiterated much of that after practice saying that it feels good not having “any” aches and pains after dealing with them last season leading to “limitations” on himself.

LaVine Making Adjustments

Just because LaVine is feeling better and playing without limitations doesn’t mean there won’t be any tweaks to how the Bulls utilize him this season. There has already been plenty of talk about their new emphasis on ball movement and creating “randomness” to prevent the defense from honing in on LaVine and DeMar DeRozan.

To that end, LaVine acknowledged that he is probably going to have the ball in his hands less while being asked to do more.

“I know I have a habit sometimes of trying to do it on my own,” LaVine said. “That’s something we’re working out, trying to figure out a way to implement my scoring into the game but also playing off the ball. More catch-and-shoots. Transition. Easy baskets. I’m all for that.”

LaVine posted a 67.6 effective field goal percentage on catch-and-shoot looks last season hitting over 46% of them from beyond the arc.

Donovan added that LaVine’s hero ball was borne out of necessity as the only player capable of generating offense consistently when the former first arrived. But the addition of DeRozan and center Nikola Vucevic has created a suitable environment for LaVine to be a lethal off-ball player.

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