Chicago Bulls Talk: Zach LaVine Aims To Make A Huge Improvement On Defense
LaVine set for a mission of bringing Bulls to playoffs
With the Chicago Bulls acquiring a handful of new key players to bolster their roster depth for the upcoming 2021-22 NBA Season, it is also true that the direction of the team moving forward is still centered around All-Star shooting guard Zach LaVine. LaVine, who notched his first All-Star appearance last season, pointed out that he is very much bent on maintaining his high effectiveness on offense, while also making a huge step of improvement on the defensive end of the floor.
LaVine, who is coming off a stellar all-around performance last season, put up a tremendous stat line of 27.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 0.8 steals, and 0.5 blocks per game. He also produced an excellent set of shooting percentages that includes an outstanding 50% overall clip from the field, a spectacular 42% clip from the three-point line, and an efficient 84% clip from the free throw line. It is also a fact that these very efficient set of shooting percentages are all career-best outputs for the high-flying shooting guard, which is another indicator of his steady progress as a shot creator and primary option on the offensive end of the floor.
Still, LaVine makes it known that this is something bigger than himself, and that he always has a team-first mentality every season. As per a column written by Sam Smith for NBA.com, LaVine pointed out that he is already looking forward to getting the season started, especially with all the personnel moves that the Bulls front office made to improve the team’s roster depth. LaVine assured to everyone that he and his teammates will work hard, and that his productive recent experience with the Team USA in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will help him become a better leader for the Bulls not just on offense, but also on the defensive end of the floor.
"The Olympic experience was incredible just from a standpoint of being around a bunch of guys that are at the highest level on and off the court. And then playing a role with a team that it was all about winning, and we were all at the top of our game and we all couldn't be the number one option. I think that experience definitely taught me something about what goes into winning and being part of a winning team at a very, very high level. Something I can bring back here and hopefully be a better leader going forward with trying to push us to be a playoff team. We had to find a role and help the team win.
We've got a bunch of new guys, new faces, and bunch of talent. We've got to get to know each other first, and I think that's where Billy (Donovan, coach) and a lot of guys, leaders of the team, are going to really decide how we're really going to play. But I know first and foremost we're going to have a commitment to going in every day and getting our work in and being a really hard-playing team. Obviously we're going to be exciting. We're going to be able to get up and down the floor with some athletic guys. But we've gotta see how it is first before we can put any names on them. I just know we're going to come in with our hardhats on and be ready to scrap. Numbers really shouldn't matter at the end of the day if we're getting wins because that means everybody's winning."
LaVine, the 13th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, spent his rookie year with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Even during his first year in the league, he showed glimpses of his all-around potential as an operator on the offensive end of the floor. LaVine put up a decent stat line of 10.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 0.7 steals per contest, while also producing a 42% overall clip from the field, a 34% clip from beyond the arc, and an 84% clip from the free throw line. He was more popularly known as an explosive and high-flying dunker, but it was very evident back then that he could also dish out assists and still have tons of room for improvement in terms of his outside shooting.
LaVine’s productive first year in the league helped him nab a spot in the 2014-15 NBA All-Rookie Team. He would spend two more seasons with the Wolves, before being traded to the Bulls in that famous Jimmy Butler during the summer of 2017. He struggled a bit in his first year in Chicago, but then bounced back big time in his second year with the team when he put up a tremendous stat line of 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.0 steals per contest.
After his breakout season with the Bulls during the 2018-19 NBA season, LaVine would then establish himself as one of the best young stars in the league. Along with his ability to soar high for his explosive dunks, LaVine can also create shots for himself whether that be through dribble penetrations to the rim or stepping back for his mid-range jumpers. On top of all these, the 6-foot-5 shooting guard also improved on his shooting percentages, and he has been more consistent and efficient with his shots.
Still, LaVine pointed out that his focus is not on his individual development, but how to be a good leader for this team. Even though he just turned 26 years of age last March, LaVine is considered as the cornerstone of a Bulls squad that has two veteran stars in sweet-shooting big man Nikola Vucevic and newly-acquired scoring combo wing DeMar DeRozan. LaVine says that he loves the fact that the Bulls front office made all these moves to bolster the lineup, but it all boils down to how they would get better together as a collective unit.
"I think you guys know I'm a team-first guy. I'm excited with all the moves that were made and really looking forward to getting into camp and getting to know these guys and getting the season started because we all have a lot to prove. My plan is to tomorrow get ready for training camp, get ready for the season, and try and help these guys win just like everybody else. I'm not worried about my contract right now. That will be a point and time in the future. And my agent I will sit down and discuss it, go from there. But right now it's about the Bulls and getting better tomorrow. Starting this thing off right, working hard, and getting forward with helping us win and just being involved with the team this year.
We're all high-IQ guys, we all know what we do. We're not going to try and change our games and not step on each other's feet because if we're not playing our games we're not ourselves. They brought us here to be ourselves, so we're going to go in there with that mindset and figure it out. Every year you get in the league is an accomplishment, and you go in there and don't take it for granted. But this is the most excited I've been. Especially with the talent of the team that we have here, the support they've given me. I'm extremely happy about that, and I'm ready to hit the ground running and go out there and just get it going. There's an excitement around the city, but there's a bigger excitement around the team, as well, because we know we can do something.''
Along with LaVine and Vucevic, the Bulls front office has bolstered their roster depth by getting two key cogs in DeRozan and all-around point guard Lonzo Ball. Vucevic, a former All-Star big man who has an excellent game at the post and on the three-point line, is coming off his first season with the Bulls. In the 26 games that he played for the Bulls last season, Vucevic put up an excellent stat line of 21.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.8 blocks per contest. He also produced an efficient set of shooting percentages that includes a 47% overall clip from the field, a 38% clip from the three-point line, and an 87% clip from the charity stripe.
His scoring on the frontcourt gave the Bulls something that they did not have in the last few years. He and LaVine shared the bigger workload on the offensive end of the floor for the Bulls last season, but they will get plenty of help from this point forward. DeRozan will surely get a lot of touches on offense next season as he is still one of the most versatile scorers in the league. DeRozan is coming off another productive season with the Bulls, putting up an all-around stat line of 21.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists, and 0.9 steals per contest.
DeRozan’s credibility and ability to switch gears is also something that will be unique for the Bulls’ offense next season. On top of the talent and skills that LaVine, Vucevic, and DeRozan bring to the table, the Bulls will also be getting the all-around versatile skill set of Lonzo Ball. Ball, a 6-foot-6 point guard, is coming off a season in which he put up an all-around stat line of 14.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.5 steals, and 0.6 blocks per contest for the New Orleans Pelicans. On top of the all-around numbers that he put up for the Pelicans, Ball also improved a lot in terms of his outside shooting.
As per a column written by Darnell Mayberry for The Athletic, DeRozan pointed out that he is already looking forward to playing with his new teammates and building something great with the Bulls. The veteran scoring combo wing is very much adamant that he would eventually fit in with the likes of LaVine, Vucevic, Ball, and the rest of his new Bulls teammates, and he pointed out that he will not find it very difficult to learn a new system and learn how to play under Bulls head coach Billy Donovan.
“It’s not rocket science,” he said of playing with LaVine. “It’s not rocket science at all. He has a passion for the game and a love and appreciation to want to win. The knowledge and everything I’ve gained over my years being in the league and being in different situations and seeing success and playing with all types of players, I understand what it takes. So for me, it’s just about us putting in the hard work and understanding each other. And not just me and him — as a team, as a collective together. And once we unlock that and figure that part out with hard work and just being consistent starting (Tuesday), it’s going to go a long way.
It’s basketball at the end of the day,” he said. “You put me out there, I’m going to figure out whatever needs to be figured out for us to be successful. I don’t overthink it. I think that’s when a lot of people get in trouble when you try to overthink this game. It’s a simple game. You understand what it takes, what needs to be done and you go out there and execute it and do it to the best of your abilities. That’s what it’s all about. I don’t get caught up in ‘I got to do this, do this.’ Whatever it takes to win, that’s all I care about.”
Along with a star core of LaVine, DeRozan, Vucevic, and Ball, the Bulls front office also managed to haul in fresh new faces in high-flying combo forward Derrick Jones Jr., defensive-minded combo guard Alex Caruso, and combo forward Stanley Johnson. The Bulls will also rely on the progress of their young guns such as scoring point guard Coby White and an up-and-coming combo forward in the talented Patrick Williams.