Zach LaVine opted for humor when asked what he learned by being Kevin Durant’s teammate this summer at the Tokyo Olympics.
“How good he is,” the Chicago Bulls All-Star guard said following Monday’s morning shootaround in advance of a matchup with Durant and the Brooklyn Nets.
LaVine and the Bulls obviously knew that. Heck, Billy Donovan spent a whole season that ended in the Western Conference finals witnessing Durant’s singular ability.
“He’s like nobody else,” LaVine said. “Defense doesn’t really affect him. And that’s the thing that, even talking today, we’re going to play some really good defense on him. And he’s going to shoot some shots over double-teams or contested hands that he really doesn’t see. It’s just his special ability to negate the defense and not let it affect him.”
Durant leads the NBA in scoring, averaging 28.6 points per game for the 7-3 Nets. LaVine ranks fifth at 26.4 points, just behind teammate DeMar DeRozan’s 26.8 points.
Whether it be Russell Westbrook or Steph Curry or James Harden, Durant always has played alongside at least one other All-Star. With last season’s addition of Nikola Vučević and this offseason’s acquisition of DeRozan, this is LaVine’s first full season doing so.
That it comes on the heels of LaVine’s first Olympics experience, where he played an important role helping Team USA win a gold medal, makes this a blissful time for LaVine.
“This is the most fun I’ve had playing basketball in a very long time. We have an extremely talented team,” he said. “We’re working through some of the kinks of playing with each other and things like that. But you can see the talent and how good this team can be. So I’m having fun.”
The Bulls enter Monday night having lost two straight, and three of their last five, all against teams projected to be playoff contenders. The Nets pose another significant test and at a time that, despite the individual brilliance of LaVine and DeRozan, the offense is stagnating.
After showcasing sublime ball movement throughout the preseason, the Bulls have recorded 20 or fewer assists in three of their last four games.
“You can’t be scared to be playing these teams. Because you want to be playing them later on in the season,” LaVine said. “It’s a challenge to see where you are as a group and how much you can get better. I look forward to playing these teams. I think that’s the mentality you have to have.”
Durant has consistently praised LaVine even before they played together for Team USA. While in Tokyo, Durant cited LaVine’s role acceptance as a defensive-minded player who picked his spots to unleash his strong scoring ability.
LaVine, in turn, marveled at the experience of seeing Durant up close and personal on a daily basis.
“He’s a great guy, extremely intelligent, incredible teammate. We all looked to him for leadership out there. Obviously, we made the right decision with that,” LaVine said. “You grow friendships and you see his work ethic and everything like that.
“I tried to shoot with him every day. But he didn’t miss one workout, one routine. Every day he got in the gym, he had the same workout after practice. He shot after every day. He came early to the gym. His work ethic is second to none. I just tried to attach to that.”
LaVine even used a line of thinking that members of the Bulls used to say about Michael Jordan back in the dynasty days.
“He didn’t sit out any drills. He didn’t sit out any practices,” he said. “For the best player to do that, you just have to fall in line.”
Monday night, LaVine will try to outwork Durant and the Nets for a badly-needed Bulls victory.