It would be easy to suggest Zach LaVine’s opening to the season, 30 or more points in four consecutive games, is nothing more than a timely hot streak. But LaVine simply looks to be a different, improved, player, one who has remodeled his game. Plus he is actually healthy.
Prior to being traded to Chicago, LaVine had largely been cast as a jump shooter. In his third and best season in Minnesota — his first under then new coach Tom Thibodeau — 43.7 percent of LaVine’s field goal attempts were generated from the three-point line. Due to scheme, opportunity, and his light frame, creating shots in traffic and getting to the free throw line wasn’t something LaVine did. As such, little faith existed in the guard ever developing into a lead scoring option. Such thought had merit — prior to this season, only 16 percent of his points where generated at the free throw line.
To make a leap as a legitimate scorer, that had to change. So far this season, it has.
An increase from 16 percent the previous four seasons to 24.4 percent early this season may not seem significant. But considering LaVine is pouring in 29.3 points per game, to have a quarter of his points being produced from the line is notable — 7.2 free throws made per game this season has doubled his previous best mark. Averaging 8.7 free throw attempts per game this season, LaVine has doubled his previous best mark there too.
You only get to the line by constantly attacking the basket, something else LaVine has seemingly added to his game.
LaVine has also been a force in isolation possessions, ranking sixth in the league in points scored in this play type. More importantly, at 1.23 points per possession, the Bulls guard ranks fourth among players with 10 or more isolation possessions.
As is always the case at this time of year, when so few games have been played, small sample sizes should be noted. Still, it’s notable given the delta in what LaVine was last season to the player we’ve seen thus far. For the moment, combining his newfound scoring avenues with his already-fluid jump shot, LaVine has seemingly become one of the better and more efficient scorers in the league this season — his 65.2 true-shooting percentage ranks 10th among all starting guards.
Can he continue doing this?
As good as LaVine has been in the early stages of the young season, the question now is can he maintain this level of play?
Raw, volume-based numbers? Maybe. With the Bulls without four rotational players, there’s a case for LaVine’s usage to increase even more. It’s unlikely that he continues to score over 30 a game, but 25 points a night is certainly in play.
But will he remain this effective? It’s hard to see that happening. What we’re seeing here isn’t sustainable, and without much help and defenses surely to start locking onto him alone, regression will come for LaVine, and that’s entirely fine. Suggesting as much isn’t a knock. Even if the efficiency does come down some, it’s quite clear that it won’t be falling to levels we saw last season.
That, of course, assumes LaVine doesn’t revert to the player he once was. As he learns and adjusts to heightened defensive pressure — particularly over the next month — it’s important LaVine doesn’t settle for tough, contested jump shots. At this point, his newfound focus on getting to the rim and free throw line could be a brief fad.
Maintaining this level of scoring and remaining this efficient — all while being asked to handle and create offense for others — is a heavy load few in the league can be successfully tasked with. So long as the shots he takes are sound, a dip in efficiency over the coming weeks should be expected, but is completely justifiable.