Zach LaVine

Is Zach LaVine now the face of the Bulls?

Is Zach LaVine now the face of the Bulls?

The Bulls lost Saturday to the Wizards, but most Bulls fans are probably still buzzing over Friday's win against the Timberwolves.

The game marked the return of Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Tom Thibodeau, but ended up being significant beyond the three former Bulls returning to the United Center. Zach LaVine, one of the pieces that came to Chicago in return for Butler, took a starring role with 35 points and three clutch free throws that gave the Bulls the final lead.

"The Bulls won that trade," Will Perdue said in the video above. "There's no ifs, ands or buts about it. You're talking about a guy that in that game against Minnesota he showed how he can attack the rim and explode over defenders. He showed he can knock down the three. He can also hit free throws in a clutch situation. Not one, not two, but three."

The 22-year-old LaVine didn't play against the Wizards (rest on a back-to-back), but has scored more than 20 points in each of his last four games. In that stretch he is shooting 46.7 percent from the field (35-75), 45.8 percent from 3 (11-24) and 86.2 percent from the free throw line (25-29).

"Zach LaVine has just become the face of this franchise and the leader of this team," Kendall Gill said. "He battled the older lion (Jimmy Butler)... and Zach LaVine comes in as the young lion and wins the contest going head up against him."

Watch the video for the full conversation about LaVine.

On one-year anniversary of his injury, Zach LaVine is still finding his legs with Bulls

On one-year anniversary of his injury, Zach LaVine is still finding his legs with Bulls

A year ago, Zach LaVine was one of the most explosive players, and obviously dunkers, in the NBA, but all of that came into question.

LaVine tore his ACL against the Detroit Pistons a year ago on this date. He has since been traded from Minnesota to the Bulls and has come back from that injury, but the guard is still working to find consistency in his game as he works his way back into form.

LaVine’s latest effort was a 6-for-18 shooting day with 21 points, nine rebounds and four assists in a 113-103 loss at the Clippers on Saturday. He did log 31 minutes, which is the most he’s logged as the Bulls continue to ease him back into playing shape.

His 21 points were a team-high, but his shooting efficiency is lagging behind his typical numbers. In nine games so far, LaVine is shooting 38.9 percent from the field, which is lower than each of his previous three years in the NBA, and his 35.7 percent 3-point shooting is lowest since his rookie year. LaVine is averaging 13.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game in 22.2 minutes this season.

“He’s still trying to find his rhythm,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said in the video above. “I think he’s turning some pretty darn good looks and turning them into tough shots and tough contested mid-range shots."

LaVine’s last two games have shown progress, even if the 6-for-18 shooting against the Clippers is below his average. In the loss at Portland on Wednesday, LaVine scored 23 points and was 8-for-13 from the field. The previous two games LaVine struggled from the floor, going 3-for-17 against the Lakers and 2-for-11 against the Bucks.

“He’s had stretches in the last few games where I think he’s shown what he can do,” Hoiberg said. “Now it’s about getting his rhythm and timing and getting him to understand when we produce good shots he’s got to raise up and shoot those. He can get a shot at any time he wants. He’s just one of those special players who can do that.”

Hoiberg emphasized how it is going to take time for LaVine after he missed so much time with a torn ACL. LaVine's Bulls debut came on Jan. 13, more than 11 months after the injury.

“We all need to understand something,” Hoiberg said. “He has not played a lot of basketball in the last year so he’ll get it back. I have no concern about that.”

Zach LaVine's conditioning at '70 percent' but still on schedule

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USA TODAY

Zach LaVine's conditioning at '70 percent' but still on schedule

Everybody saw the play, that awkward instance where Zach LaVine looked ready for his second dunk of the season but was fouled from behind by Atlanta’s Taurean Prince.

It looked as if LaVine was ready for liftoff but one of his jets misfired, sparking at least the thought of his recovery from his ACL injury being a bit off—but he laughed at the thought.

“I don’t know why everybody keeps talking about it,” LaVine said Sunday at New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center, where the Bulls held practice. “The dude stepped on the back of my foot, so I couldn’t get off the ground. Everybody’s wondering if I’m okay, yeah. I just missed a fouled layup.”

The adrenaline from his first two games have worn off a bit, and he missed his first four shots from the field Saturday before hitting a couple in the start of the third quarter in the Bulls’ 113-97 win over the Hawks.

He looked winded a few times during his stint and admitted his conditioning isn’t where it should be—as expected given he’s missed 11 months of real basketball. He said his conditioning is at about “70 percent”, and you can certainly see it in his jump shot not being as fluid as it was last season in Minnesota.

“It was feeling good in practice but in games it’s seventy,” LaVine said. “Playing defense, getting back, running the break, just getting used to it.”

Add to it, the Bulls cover the most halfcourt ground of any team in the NBA with their set offense and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has long said he’s not slowing down his offense while LaVine is in.

The shooting guard will have to catch up to the pace, and it’ll probably be better for him in the long run.

“I think it’s just ‘okay’ and rightfully so,” said Hoiberg about LaVine’s conditioning. “It’s impossible to simulate game action in practices when you’re doing individual workouts. Every time he plays that conditioning will ramp up. As he plays, it’ll get better and better. And he’s such a good and natural athlete, it’ll come back quickly.”

Hoiberg isn’t concerned about the variances in LaVine’s performances. He came out the gate with such force and adrenaline in his debut against Detroit and two days later against Miami, but it’s tailed off against Golden State and then Atlanta.

“I think Zach’s doing great,” Hoiberg said. “You look around the league where players have come back from significant injuries, he’s gonna be up and down. His first two games he’s been unbelievable. A couple games he hasn’t shot the ball great. He played unselfish basketball last night.”

LaVine’s minutes has been extended to 24 from 20, and he’ll still practice in the off-days as the Bulls want to keep his rehab on schedule as opposed to having him play heavy minutes initially.

He’ll be re-evaluated after Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia and could see his minutes rise before the Bulls host the Lakers Friday at the United Center.

“I should just get used to it,” LaVine said. “Just getting used to the swing of things. It takes a second for your body to get adjusted to it.”