Bulls’ Zach LaVine Scoring Like Crazy, but Leadership Could Be Defining Trait

    Crazy things can happen with a three-game sample size, but Zach LaVine’s current scoring pace might not be going away. LaVine is averaging 32.3 points per

    October 23, 2018

    Crazy things can happen with a three-game sample size, but Zach LaVine’s current scoring pace might not be going away.

    LaVine is averaging 32.3 points per game on a ridiculous 61.8 percent mark from the floor. Unfortunately for Chicago, his hot start hasn’t resulted in wins. The Bulls are 0-3 on the season and after their most recent loss to the Mavericks, LaVine didn’t hold back.

    “If we would have run the right plays, got the ball to the right people, I think we would have been all right,” LaVine told the Chicago Sun-Times after Monday’s 115-109 loss. ‘‘I’m not putting it on Fred. We have to figure it out. You can tell I’m upset. We lost, and I think we could’ve won. We have to figure out how to win.’’

    The Bulls matched the four-year, $80 million offer LaVine received from the Kings last summer with the expectation that the 23-year old guard would be part of the team’s core going forward. Since he was part of the Jimmy Butler trade package, it would have been hard to see LaVine walk after playing just 24 games in a Bulls uniform. And while there’s no way his current efficiency stays the course, there’s enough reason to believe LaVine will have tremendous growth as a scorer this season.

    “I feel good offensively,” LaVine said Tuesday before practice. “Hopefully I can stay in that rhythm.”

    Small sample size aside, LaVine has been putting himself in the best position to be efficient offensively. Thirty percent of his looks have come within 10 feet of the basket and he’s converting 78 percent of those shots. Another 36 percent of his attempts are coming from beyond the arc.

    In his last two complete seasons, LaVine was a 37 percent 3-point shooter and there’s reason to believe that number will be indicative of his abilities as a perimeter threat. This means his current 45 percent mark from deep shouldn’t fall too far, allowing LaVine to push back against natural regression to an extent.

    Chicago’s bad injury luck will also aid LaVine’s production. Lauri Markkanen no longer has a cast on his arm, but will need time to get acclimated before returning the floor. Point guard Kris Dunn is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with an MCL sprain.

    With two proven scorers out and Jabari Parker continuing to get most of his minutes with the second unit, LaVine will be Chicago’s top offensive option for the foreseeable future. This leads to one of LaVine’s biggest areas for growth in 2018-19: leadership. And that takes us back to Monday’s loss against Dallas.

    “I feel like I didn’t say anything wrong. We talked about it and I let him know how I felt,” LaVine said. “I’m trying to be a leader on the court. I’m just trying to help the team win.”

    “I know Zach’s a very competitive kid and he took that loss hard,” Bulls Head Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I know Zach has the right intentions. He wants to get better and help our team get better. I’m confident moving forward Zach’s going to continue to grow with his leadership.”

    After a rough opening game in Philadelphia, the Bulls have dropped their last two contests by a combined eight points. They are allowing 120 points per game, the ninth-worst mark in the league. Defense is another area where LaVine will need to get better, but for now his offense is mitigating his struggles on that side of the court. His growth as a leader will help the Bulls on that end of the floor as well.

    “At times, we don’t sprint back, we don’t communicate,” LaVine said. “We have to be able to stop those runs and get back in the game.”

    “I think I could do a better job being vocal,” he added. “I’m trying to work on it all.”

    The Bulls will have an opportunity to get back on track in their upcoming stretch. Five of their next seven games are at home and only three will be against playoff teams from a season ago. LaVine should see more attention from opposing defenses, and making an adjustment will be another step for his growth.

    “Obviously, teams are going to make adjustments and I have to do the same,” LaVine said. “Make the right plays. Let the game come to me.”

    LaVine ultimately wants to win games. If he can keep up his scoring output and the Bulls step up defensively, Chicago should be able to tread water until Markkanen and Dunn return. LaVine has already proven he’s capable of being a great scorer. If he becomes a successful leader and teammates buy in, the Bulls could be in the mix for playoff basketball. That’s LaVine’s goal.

    “I haven’t won anything before,” LaVine said. “I don’t want to go home early anymore. That sucks.”

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