They say you miss every shot you don’t take. For Zach LaVine, who missed the first 42 games of the season, he’s been getting up shots lit it’s been a personal mission to make up for lost time.
Dominating the ball and growing into a lead guard was what LaVine wants to be and what the Bulls want for him as well. Up until his debut, late-game scenarios have been problematic without a consistent shot creator. Until now, it was Kris Dunn, a sophomore point guard with questionable shot mechanics, as the best closing perimeter option head coach Fred Hoiberg could employ late in games. It didn’t take long for LaVine to establish himself as the man on offense, commanding and taking more shots than any other Bull this season.
But has the balance of power shifted too far too soon? He has quickly established a pattern of ball-dominance up against the greatest players in Bulls franchise history. LaVine, in several volume-based offensive metrics, is right behind Greatest of All Time Michael Jordan and former phenom Derrick Rose.
Of all the players who have averaged 24 or minutes per game in a Bulls jersey, per 100 possessions, only Jordan and Rose have had a single season with more field goal attempts than LaVine.
Using the same variables, a similar picture exists with usage percentage. On the season, LaVine is using an estimated 30.9 percent of team’s possessions while he’s on the floor. Without context, that may not seem like much, but it rivals MVP seasons produced by Jordan and Rose, the only two Bulls ever to have a higher usage percentage than LaVine.
LaVine’s current shooting volumes aren’t limited to Bulls history. To date this season, only five players in the league put up more shots per 100 possessions than LaVine (minimum 10 field goal attempts per game) - Russell Westbrook, D’Angelo Russell, James Harden, Kristaps Porzingis and Kyrie Irving. Considering the amount of offensive talent in the league, taking time to appropriately digest this fact, it’s bizarre to think LaVine is shooting and using more possessions than LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, LaVine has needed extra shooting possessions to create points. This has resulted in reduction in his scoring efficiency from last season – to 51.7 true-shooting percentage - which is below league average. This is expected after recently returning from a significant knee injury, but his shot profile doesn’t lend itself to efficient basketball in the future, either.
Regular trips to the free throw line is one way LaVine can increase his efficiency moving forward. Though he’s had some impressive finishes at the basket this season, LaVine’s career-high in free throw rate prior to this season came during his rookie campaign, a mark he’s marginally improved on at present. While his three-point percentage is a healthy 38.3 percent, as a percentage of all his field goal attempts, LaVine has had a 10 point swing in favor of attempting more two-point shots than threes this season compared to last.
Launching more twos than threes, many of those being jump shots, isn’t conducive to a modern and efficient offense. Plus it goes against Hoiberg’s offensive principles.
Not that we should be overly concerned just yet.
LaVine has played 16 games this season. His numbers have been skewed due to a small sample size, which must be factored in. We also can’t discount the injury; he needs time to rediscover his old form whilst developing the new, hopefully franchise-level version of himself. The context of a rebuilding season and all it entails should also be considered – playing alongside bad players will impact production. It’s entirely possible LaVine’s numbers normalize as the current season progresses.
Thus far, though, the guard has been given a licence to shoot, with no signs suggesting that may be tempered as the season nears its end. That isn’t necessarily the wrong approach for the 28th ranked offense, but old habits die hard. The Bulls must walk the line of developing LaVine as a legitimate go-to scorer whilst understanding other talent on the roster needs looks at the basket, too.
The distribution of shots among all players and the type of attempts LaVine chooses will be interesting to track over the final 23 games of the season, and will be a leading indicator into how the offensive hierarchy may be structured next season. If we’re to see more games where he facilitates the offense as he did against the Timberwolves over the weekend, his chances of becoming a complete offensive force - not just a scorer - heighten significantly.