One of the most prolific dunkers in the NBA is back this weekend as Zach LaVine returns from an ACL tear. The 6-foot-5 189-pound wingman has been rehabbing his knee since the summer and has not played a game yet this year. LaVine is expected back on Saturday, making his Bulls debut against the Detroit Pistons. In a twist, LaVine tore his ACL against the Pistons almost a year ago while playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
[su_quote cite=”John Paxson” url=”http://www.nba.com/article/2018/01/09/chicago-bulls-zach-lavine-season-debut#/”]Zach will play 20 minutes a game to start and not play back-to-backs until after the All-Star Break. [/su_quote]
LaVine came to Chicago in the Jimmy Butler trade during the 2017 NBA Draft. He was sent to the Bulls along with guard Kris Dunn and the 7th pick in the draft, in return for Jimmy Butler and the 16th pick. With the 7th pick in the draft, the Bulls chose Lauri Markkanen from Arizona, and he has turned out to be one of the best rookies out of the draft so far.
Zach LaVine is considered the centerpiece of the trade and Bulls fans have been waiting all season to see him take the court. With Kris Dunn looking more and more like the point guard of the future and Lauri Markkanen continuing to develop, the Bulls have a nice core to build around. If LaVine can show he is fully recovered from the injury and showcase the athleticism and scoring we saw from him pre-injury, the Bulls will be in a great spot in their rebuild with lots of cap-space and a likely top-5 pick in the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft.
What He Brings to the Table
Zach LaVine is known to even the most casual fans for his outrageous athleticism shown in winning back-to-back NBA Slam Dunk Contests in 2015 and 2016.
Many people forget that Zach LaVine is a scorer, plain and simple. After averaging 10.1 and 14 ppg his first two years in the league, LaVine bumped his scoring average up to 18.9 ppg last season before his injury. He increased his scoring averages by bumping up his three-point percentage to 39 percent on 6.5 attempts per game. LaVine also played over 37 minutes a game, up from 28 minutes the year before. The increased minutes lead to more scoring opportunities, and LaVine took advantage of them. He improved his overall field goal percentage to 46 percent while increasing his shot attempts to over 15 a game. This shows that LaVine is fully capable of being a high-octane scorer while still be efficient in his attempts.
LaVine was able to improve his efficiency by cutting down his contested mid-range attempts and by taking and making more three’s. He uses his quick first step to blow by defenders and attack the rim, which is bad news for the defense. When LaVine goes up to slam it home, the defender is more likely to end up on a poster in kids bedroom that block the dunk.
It also allows him to break down the defense and kick it out to the open man because the defense is scrambling to help out the beaten man. He will add scoring, athleticism and 3-point shooting to a young, rebuilding Bulls team that needs it. The Bulls are currently 29th in the league in Field Goal percentage and 25th in scoring. LaVine can help in both of those categories while developing chemistry with the other young guys such as Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis and David Nwaba.
How LaVine’s Return Impacts the Rotation
Currently, the Chicago Bulls starting lineup is Kris Dunn, Justin Holiday, Denzel Valentine, Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez. With LaVine coming back and sliding into the starting lineup, Fred Holberg will have two options.
The first option is having LaVine play shooting guard, sliding Justin Holiday to Small Forward and moving Denzel Valentine to the bench. This would allow for the lineup to not sacrifice defense will adding offense and shooting. This is the option that I believe Hoiberg and the Bulls will go with.
The second option is have LaVine start at shooting guard and Valentine stay at his small forward position. This option Justin Holiday would be moved to the bench. In this case the starting lineup still has a ton of shooting, but less defense as LaVine and Valentine are not plus wing defenders.
In any of the above scenarios, Paul Zipser would cease getting minutes off the bench because of LaVine coming back and Valentine, Nwaba and Holiday’s minutes would be reduced. This makes the Bulls bench deeper and allows them to more opportunities mix and match lineups based on the opponent.
LaVine is on the last year of his rookie deal so he is not only playing for a new team but playing for the future. If he shows that he can be the offensive playmaker that we saw last year before he got hurt, then he could be in for a huge payday from the Bulls or another team in Restricted Free Agency this summer.
I will leave you with some Zach LaVine’s best dunks, least you forget after a year off what a freak athlete he is.
“From Our Haus to Yours”