How LaVine displayed all-around growth in Bulls' opener

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

DETROIT — Acquire Lonzo Ball for $80 million. Add a four-time All-Star in DeMar DeRozan for $85 million. Build on the win-now mentality that began with March’s acquisition of Nikola Vučević.

But make no mistake: The Chicago Bulls are still Zach LaVine’s team.

That’s not to say Wednesday’s season-opening 94-88 victory over the Pistons followed the same script as last season, where LaVine had to bail out a moribund offense and play hero ball often. That happened to a degree, with LaVine scoring 23 of his 34 points after halftime, including 15 in a third quarter that flipped momentum.

But even if on a surface level it looked like last season, LaVine is here to tell you it’s not. Because his heroics happened after affirming experiences like his first All-Star and Olympic berths. And, perhaps most important, they occurred against the backdrop of the Bulls’ added firepower.

“This ain’t last year,” LaVine said. “We’re looking forward now. It’s a whole new team, a whole new mindset.”

There’s a different vibe surrounding LaVine these days. Always confident, there’s an edge — in a good way — about him. It’s what happens when a player is tired of losing — and also has now tasted what it’s like to be on an All-Star or Olympic team where players don’t do a lot of that.


The Bulls aren’t an All-Star or an Olympic team. But they’re more loaded than they’ve been in years.

“I’m always confident. I put the work in. But having this dude (DeRozan) next to me, having Vooch next to me, Lonzo, that just makes me more confident and more ready to play,” LaVine said. “We have a bunch of dogs on the team now, guys that will step up for each other. So I’m really excited.

“Sometimes just give (DeRozan) the ball and get out the way, give Vooch the ball and get out the way. And that’s what it’s going to be. I had it going and these guys recognized that. But it’s not going to be that every night. We got a bunch of No. 1 options.”

LaVine picked up where he left off last season in terms of offensive efficiency. He sank 11 of 17 shots and knocked down all 11 of his free throws. Double-digit attempts reflected his confident attacking.

LaVine also drew postgame praise from coach Billy Donovan for his defensive engagement. No longer did LaVine lose focus off the ball or get hung up on screens as easily.

For this season’s Bulls, the learning curve is going to be how well can an unselfish group recognize who has the hot hand, who has the best matchup. That’s part of LaVine’s maturation process as well.

But make no mistake: On a team of what LaVine has called No. 1 options, he remains the No. 1 of those No. 1s.

“I think he has grown,” Donovan said. “The shots that he makes, the things he does athletically and talent-wise, I think people have seen that for years from him. He’s always kind of had that. I think he’s looking at things through a different lens.

“His voice is there. There’s a different messaging coming from him in a good way. I think he sees things in a different way now based on his experiences. Going through his first Olympics and first All-Star, I think being around those level of players, being able to pick those guys’ brains, he’s very eager to learn and grow.”

Thursday brings a practice day. Friday brings a home opener where the Bulls can grow their record to 2-0. An edgy LaVine will be there.

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