Bulls

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.”

Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short

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USA TODAY

Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short

Lauri Markkanen doesn't often feel short.

The Bulls forward is 7-feet tall, which even in the land of NBA giants makes him one of the tallest players on the court at all times. So when Markkanen stands next to Yao Ming, it changes perspective quite a bit.

Markkanen posted a photo with him and the 7-foot-6 Chinese Hall of Famer. Markkanen looks like a child.

Makes you wonder if Markkanen pulled some "What's the weather like up there?" jokes just because he otherwise never can.

 

Could Derrick Walton Jr. become the solution at backup PG?

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USA TODAY

Could Derrick Walton Jr. become the solution at backup PG?

Former Miami Heat two-way player Derrick Walton Jr. is reported to be nearing a deal with the Bulls. In an interview with The Athletic, it was stated: "Walton, 23, says he knows where he’ll play next season. An agreement is in place, but his agent, Mark Bartelstein, is requiring him to sit on the news until next week. All Walton can put out publicly is this: 'Long story short, I’m good. I’m going to a great situation. All I can say.' "

And while it is not yet known if the potential contract will be a two-way deal or not, Walton would provide an intriguing lottery ticket for the Bulls. 

The team mostly ignored looking for a backup point guard on the market. There is obviously a belief in the organization that Cameron Payne will have some internal growth, making him the best option. And the trade of Jerian Grant for essentially nothing, shows even more that Payne is there guy. Retaining Ryan Arcidiacono is a nice move considering the hustle that he showed last season at both the G League and NBA level, but it still leaves the Bulls thin in terms of established backup PGs behind Kris Dunn. And that is where Walton comes into play. 

Walton was a four-year player at the University of Michigan, where he played in some big-time games and showed immense leadership potential. But in terms of strictly on the court skills, there is one thing that he does extremely well: space the floor. 

In his four years at Michigan, Walton took a total of 581 3-point attempts, and knocked them down at a 40.1 percent rate. His elite shooting is enough to make him a legitimate rotation player for Fred Hoiberg. And while Payne still may develop into a better player, his outside shooting is his calling card despite never being elite at that skill at the NBA level. And in fact, when you compare he and Walton’s stats from college, the G League and the NBA, it becomes apparent who is the better shooter right now.

3-point percentage at NCAA level: Payne- 35.9 percent, Walton- 40.1 percent
3-point percentage at G League level: Payne- 33.8 percent, Walton- 37.7 percent
3-point percentage at NBA level: Payne- 34 percent, Walton- 41.2 percent

Now obviously, there is a “small sample size alert” for the NBA level, as Walton has only taken 17 3-pointers at the NBA level in his limited time with the Miami Heat. But these numbers show that even dating back to their freshman years of college, Walton has been the more efficient shooter from 3-point range.

Cameron Payne has the edge when it comes to playmaking, and this is based off of the fact that Payne has maintained an assist rate above 30 percent through all of his G League stints, while also having a low turnover rate (9.9 percent). Walton didn’t come close to Payne in terms of G League assist rate, and his 17.9 percent turnover rate at the G League level shows that his decision-making has yet to catch up to his shooting. 

Ultimately, Walton is going to be most effective as an off-ball guard who can make quick decisions, and knockdown the 3-point shot at a high level. Though if Summer League was any indication, his passing out of the pick-and-roll is getting better. And while Payne certainly is a good shooter, his game is much more predicated on having the ball in his hands, and playing in the pick-and-roll. With so many players on the Bulls who can create their own shot, Walton could end up being the cleanest fit with this constantly evolving Bulls roster.