Although it was a close win for the Chicago Bulls, the real focus wasn’t on the score, it was the debut of Zach LaVine. This was LaVine’s first game since suffering a torn ACL last year and he showed some good initial signs of being a key offensive option for the Bulls.
Despite being on a minutes limit (LaVine can only play 20 minutes and won’t play 4th quarters), LaVine dropped 14 points on 5 of 9 shooting while adding 2 assists. He played in small spurts while also getting chances to play with both the starters and with the reserve unit.
LaVine was aggressive offensively and looked to attack any time he received the ball.
(0:25 - 0:32) In this game LaVine showed he was a threat to score from all three levels of the court and started off his night with a three-pointer right off the bat.
On their first possession of the game, Chicago had LaVine starting on the right side of the wing and then come back down and set a pick for Justin Holiday, who was underneath the basket. However when LaVine got to the restricted area instead of screening Holiday’s man in Avery Bradley, LaVine used the defender as a screen for himself and turned around him like a turnstile with Holiday doing the same. The wraparound screen like action used by the two Chicago guards caught Reggie Bullock off guard. The guard was trailing LaVine down to the restricted area but found himself getting lost after LaVine wrapped around Holiday. It looked like Bullock was expecting LaVine to run to the other side and not anticipating the wraparound. So when it happened, Bullock was caught flat footed and way out of position.
After seeing LaVine running out of the paint towards the three-point line, it was clear Bullock wasn’t catching up to him. Holiday set a mini screen underneath the basket and when Bullock ran out to the near the Bulls logo, he had to avoid an attempt at a screen by Lauri Markkanen. This gave enough time and space for LaVine to get to the spot he wanted, catch the ball, rise up, and knock down his first jump shot attempt in many months.
(1:28 - 1:36) LaVine also displayed his ability to break a defender off the dribble and finish at the rim. This play starts off with LaVine getting a screen from Nikola Mirotic on the wing and it gave him an opportunity for a clean catch at the top of the three-point line. Bobby Portis then came all the way up past the three-point line and put his hands asking for the ball. LaVine’s defender (Bullock again) sees this and takes a quick look to his left. This small moment of hesitation/lack of concentration from Bullock is all LaVine needs to blow right by the defender and into the lane. With Portis drawing his man out and the other Pistons big man out guarding Mirotic, it was a relatively open lane for LaVine to drive. However with David Nwaba out in the wing, the Pistons had both of their defenders on that side situated near the paint knowing a kick out three-pointer from him wouldn’t be the worst shot to give up. So Pistons guard Dwight Buycks slide over right in front of LaVine, intending to take a charge. What happened next was a really great adjustment by LaVine was he glided towards the basket, shifting past Buycks attempt at a charge in the process. Once he got past Buycks, it was a simple finger roll layup for LaVine.
It was only 20 minutes, but LaVine showed flashes of being a solid offensive player still. Defensively, he surely had his problems. It was also assumed LaVine needs to be paired with a defensive guard/wing like Kris Dunn or Nwaba in order for the Bulls not to get cooked by opposing guards, and that held true after one game.
Zach LaVine Falls On Defense pic.twitter.com/EL9c5gbJ4w— Gustavo Vega (@iamvega1982) January 14, 2018
Yet in terms of overall performance, it was a positive sign to see LaVine play with such confidence and aggression.
Wing rotation for Chicago will be something to look for
With LaVine’s in the mix, there were expected changes in Chicago’s wing rotation. The first obvious one was Paul Zipser getting a DNP-CD. He has been really poor this season and has regressed since an ok rookie season. The second change was who was going to come off the bench first between David Nwaba and Denzel Valentine. Valentine was first off the bench but Nwaba ended up playing more minutes (rightfully so). This will be an interesting tidbit to keep track of for the rest of the season.