Bulls Insider

LaVine takes team-first approach to DeRozan absence

/ by K.C. Johnson
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
Bulls Insider

DeMar DeRozan has played at such a high level this season that he has almost overshadowed Zach LaVine.

But if you look closely, you’ll notice LaVine has continued his growth and ascension that will lead to him signing a maximum contract next offseason.

Just take the two games this week that DeRozan has missed while in the league’s health and safety protocols. LaVine has averaged 27.5 points and 8.5 assists. He topped his season-high of eight assists on Monday night with a season-high nine assists in the Chicago Bulls' loss to the Cavaliers on Wednesday.

LaVine no longer has to — or tries to — play hero ball all the time.

“We still got so many good players on the floor,” LaVine said. “So if the double team comes or if I can draw two guys, kick it to Zo (Lonzo Ball) or kick it to Vooch (Nikola Vučević) or whoever. I’m going to do that. Just try to make the right play.”

Obviously, LaVine possesses the sublime scoring ability to occasionally take over games. He took over down the stretch of the third quarter in Monday’s victory over the Nuggets, finishing with 12 points in that period. And he blasted out of the gate Wednesday night, scoring 11 first-quarter points.

 

But he ultimately cooled off in Wednesday’s loss, finishing 9-for-21. He also has averaged 3.5 turnovers in the two games without DeRozan, up from his season average of 2.6 per game.

But more often than not, he’s making the right read and the right play. He also attacked the rim frequently, attempting a game-high seven free throws.

“Our offense is great when we get stops and get in transition. We had to play against their halfcourt defense a lot,” LaVine said of the Cavaliers. “They started loading up the floor against me in the second and third quarter.”

Through 26 games, LaVine is averaging 25.8 points compared to last season’s 27.4 per game. His shooting splits are down a tick from last season’s near-historic efficiency but still sit at an impressive 48.7/37.7/84.8. His true shooting percentage is the second-best of his career at 59.8, behind last season’s gaudy 63.4.

With the Bulls’ winning record and his improved defensive play, he’s a near-lock to make his second straight All-Star game. But LaVine is obviously chasing team success, not individual goals.

LaVine’s ability to welcome DeRozan and fit seamlessly alongside him is another example of how misguided the empty-calories scorer label was that some tried to pin on him. Even with DeRozan sidelined, LaVine tried several times to play two-man game with Vučević to get him going against the Cavaliers.

“You’re not going to replace what he does, especially at the level of play that he’s playing at right now,” LaVine said of DeRozan’s absence. “But guys step up and we can compete for each other and we can still be a really good team.”

DeRozan will be in the league’s health and safety protocols for 10 days or until he produces two negative tests for COVID-19 within 24 hours. The Bulls are bracing for him to miss at least the next three games.

That stretch will place more responsibility on LaVine’s plate. Just look for him to handle that with the maturity he has flashed throughout this season.

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