Bulls Star Zach LaVine Issues Challenge to Billy Donovan

Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls

Getty Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls reacts after hitting a three point shot.

First, there were rumors. Then we heard it in no uncertain terms from Chicago Bulls forward Patrick Williams. And now we are hearing it from Zach LaVine. The Bulls’ offense should look different from what we saw for most of last season, specifically, the final 42 games which all came with Lonzo Ball sidelined due to a knee injury that required two surgeries.

Without Ball, the Bulls’ offense relied heavily on isolation, or “hero ball”, to generate a lot of their offense. In their defense, they were good at it generating 1.05 points per play in isolation to lead the league last season.

You take two of DeMar [DeRozan]‘s shots (away) — the one in Washington and the one against Indiana — we’re in the play-in tournament,” Bulls head coach Billy Donovan said. “That’s how close and how fragile it is.”

They are taking steps to avoid that this season LaVine said.

Bulls Diversifying Their Offense

“Free-flowing,” LaVine said in describing the Bulls’ new-look attack. “Quick reads. For isolation, one on one players, we’re going to get a couple of those shots up. That’s part of our game. But quick reads. Fast decisions…The ball should be popping side to side. Being able to use different players in different spots.” (h/t Rob Schaefer/NBC Sports Chicago)

LaVine summed up the altered approach as “a little more random” saying that defenders won’t know where they are going to be all the time as they did last season. With that, LaVine also called upon Donovan and the rest of the coaching staff right along with the players.

It starts, LaVine says, with accountability.

“Being accountable and receiving constructive criticism,” LaVine offered. “I think that’s what we have to do a little bit better job with, from top to bottom, coaching staff included. I think we’ve gotten better with that, and being able to hear and see adjustments and try to take it all in stride and be able to adjust it and put it into game form.”

Donovan has been called out for his lack of adjustments last season but from the outside.

Some of those adjustments were due to injury and, the hope is, most of those concerns can be left in the past save for Ball.

Still, it is worth noting that the highest-paid player in franchise history is stating publicly that the coaches need to be more receptive to such criticisms. It also brings into question how often attempts to address such issues with Donovan and the staff were made to no avail last season.

Of course, none of this will matter if the Bulls win and they feel poised to do just that.

LaVine Explosive as Ever

“The first thing that stood out to me is that he looks really strong, physically,” Donovan said of LaVine after a recent practice. “He’s put, to me, good size on, good strength. He looks really explosive. He looks like a different player, to me, during training camp.”

LaVine battled a thumb injury in the early part of last season and a knee injury throughout the latter stages.

The knee required constant maintenance and even knocked him out of their final playoff game.

He underwent an arthroscopic procedure this summer to alleviate the discomfort. By all accounts he has made a full recovery and, per DeRozan, that is a problem for the Bulls’ opponents. It could also mean the Bulls’ ball movement and spontaneity improve on their own.

DeRozan and LaVine were both top-10 scorers when healthy before a fateful blowout loss to the Golden State Warriors in mid-January that saw both Ball and LaVine exit with injuries.

“It can be very exciting and scary for other people, “ DeRozan said. “A lot of my load last year was Zach being out. We always talked about making things easier on one another. Being so up and down and not having each other made it tough on both of us. Having a healthy Zach and healthy me makes our job and everybody’s else job around us a lot easier.”

Bulls Need All Hands on Deck

With Ball lost through at least the New Year, it seems, the Bulls have been all but written off by a large segment of the NBA world. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton is among them citing an ominous stat from last season as a key factor.

“Despite starting 2021-22 atop the East at 26-10 before a second-half slide, Chicago is projected to finish worse than .500 this season. That stems in large part from the Bulls’ minus-0.4 point differential, which would typically translate to 40 wins instead of the 46 games Chicago actually won.”

Per Pelton, the Bulls were even worse when taking Ball out of the equation completely.

The Bulls have to hope their offseason additions and decisions are enough to prevent a similar slide this season.