Bull star guard Zach LaVine is one of the best young players in the NBA but is he a top 10 player this season? LaVine is a star, he always had that fire and talent but he just keeps getting better at both ends of the court and expanding on it. At 26 years old, he’s a true student of the game.
- LaVine’s Defense
LaVine seemed to improve on defense in the Tokyo Olympics. Not having to use all his energy scoring to keep his team competitive helped back then. He turned that switch on because he’s a dog and the moment/situation allowed him to. That said, his numbers this season show that he’s regressed a bit. The sample size is small but look at the evidence:
2020-21: minus-1.1 Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DBPM) in 58 games
2021-22: minus-2.3 Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DBPM) in 14 games
2020-21: Offensive Rating of 114 at Basketball Reference in 58 games
2021-22: Offensive Rating of 107 at Basketball Reference in 14 games
The Bulls got a supporting cast around LaVine and he’s thrived on offense, leading them to a 10-4 record at press time. LaVine asked the team’s front office for help and they delivered, signing Lonzo Ball and trading for DeMar DeRozan. Chicago’s culture changed, they’re fun to watch again and a deep playoff run is not out of the question but LaVine’s defense prevents him from being a top 10 player in the league this year.
Offensively, LaVine has played like an All-Star for a while. The two-time NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion had a career year in the 2020-21 season, averaging 27.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists while shooting 50.7 percent from the field and 41.9 percent from 3-point range in 35.1 minutes over 58 games. This season he’s averaging 25.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists on 48.7 percent shooting in 35.1 minutes over 14 games.
According to NBA legend Mark Jackson: “The one thing about Zach LaVine is that you don’t have to beg him to come into the gym.
He WANTS to be a great player, and he WORKS HIS TAIL OFF.”
I’ve been watching him play since college at UCLA and I’m sure that he will improve on defense as the season progresses but I just can’t name him a top 10 player right now.
- LaVine is Playing Through a Left Thumb Injury
The Chicago Bulls (10-4 SU and ATS) aren’t the Frankenstein’s monster of NBA teams after all. At first it looked like their decision to sign Lonzo Ball and trade for DeMar DeRozan was a classic case of poor roster construction. Instead, Ball has blended well in the backcourt with LaVine, and DeRozan has bossed the mid-range. Adding Alex Caruso has also papered over some of the defensive issues this team could have with LaVine and DeRozan. How far can they go? It’s too early to tell but LaVine playing through a left thumb injury is concerning and it prevents him from being a top 10 player in the NBA this season.
On October 26 LaVine underwent an MRI that revealed a sprained left thumb that he plans to play through. He had had his thumb taped during Bulls practice the next day, where he participated in “some stuff, but not everything,” as Bulls head coach Billy Donovan told ESPN.
The injury is to his non-shooting hand and he’s playing through it. So far, it doesn’t appear to have affected his performance but it could prevent him for reaching the next level.
“Obviously I don’t want to put myself in any danger,” LaVine said. “I don’t have all the information on it yet. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow and go from there. But you know me, I try to play through everything. If I’m able to, I will.”