Bulls

Zach LaVine doesn't give a damn about ESPN's new list

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USA TODAY

Zach LaVine doesn't give a damn about ESPN's new list

Zach LaVine was noticeably absent from ESPN's list of best 25 players under the age of 25, which came as a bit of a surprise to him.

"Did it have something to do with my injury?" he queried, referencing to the ACL injury he suffered last February as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The list was published last week and based on future potential, not necessarily on accomplishments to date.

Lauri Markkanen made the list at No. 19, but the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butler trade didn't make any of the three panelists' Top 25.

Usually cool, LaVine flashed a little bit of incredulousness once he had a chance to gather his thoughts.

"You guys (media) don't think I'm better...Top 25 players under 25? If I'm not in the Top 25 of that, then I obviously haven't done what I'm supposed to be doing out here," LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com. "I don't worry about that. I know I'm a lot better than what they think. Random people talking."

MVP candidates Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis headlined the list, followed by Joel Embiid, one-time LaVine teammate Karl-Anthony Towns and Nikola Jokic rounding out the Top 5.

"I don't give a damn, man," LaVine said. "I motivate myself. I go out there and play for my team and family. I couldn't care what they think. There's a lot of people that know what I do."

Former teammate Andrew Wiggins also made the list, tied at No. 23. As a third option last season before his injury, LaVine averaged 18.9 points on 46 percent shooting and 39 from the 3-point line. This season, LaVine is averaging 17 points and nearly four rebounds with three assists in 27.5 minutes for the Bulls, having played in 22 games since making his debut in January. 

His shooting this season is down — at 39.5 percent — as he works himself into a new system on a changing team in addition to feeling out his body.

"Zach, right now, he's still working himself back into shape," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "Having a year off, I don't think people understand how hard it is to get back into top form when you're almost off for a calendar year. He's shown some really good flashes and played really good basketball."

He's had some signature games, such as outdueling Butler last month in a 35-point showing that capped off a career-best streak of four straight 20-point games. There's been games where he looked dead-legged, an expected side effect from his recovery.

He called the 1-for-11 showing against the Boston Celtics last week "the worst game of my career."

"The Minnesota game was cool. I was just hyped for that game," LaVine said. "I felt good in the Portland game, I felt good in the Sacramento game. There's games I came out and felt really good. And then games I haven't, where it was like 'this is bad.'"

At his position, Washington's Bradley Beal (No. 8), Utah's Donovan Mitchell and Phoenix's Devin Booker (tied at No. 9), Denver's Gary Harris (No. 11) and Boston's Jaylen Brown (No. 22) checked in ahead of LaVine. 

Beal is blossoming, leading the Wizards in the absence of John Wall. Mitchell is a sensational Rookie of the Year candidate, helping Utah surge toward a playoff spot in the West. Booker had a 70-point game last season, but Phoenix is the league's second-worst team. Harris doesn't wow anyone statistically but is a darling of the advanced stats crowd and solid across the board. Brown has helped the Celtics thrive in the absence of Gordon Hayward.

LaVine is getting his first real chance at being a starter, and has had to do it under the circumstances of an injury recovery for a team that is looking toward the long play as opposed to contending in the moment.

"I'm just trying to get in a rhythm and get better," LaVine said. "Each game I try to go out and do better than I did the day before."

Considering he's up for restricted free agency this summer, he's had to resist the urge of going stat-hunting to stay inside the construct of Hoiberg's system, while at the same time trying to find his new footing.

"You have to be (aggressive). Sometimes, it gotta come within the flow of the game," LaVine said. "We have so many different lineups out here, it might not be your night, too. It's gonna be a process going forward with it."

Already supremely motivated, LaVine probably found something else to guide him for the rest of the season and beyond.

Ryan Arcidiacono has worked his way into Bulls' fourth quarter rotation

Ryan Arcidiacono has worked his way into Bulls' fourth quarter rotation

Some games, it seems Ryan Arcidiacono spends as much time on the floor as the mops that ballboys use to sweep up sweat.

Some of his pursuits for loose balls are physical. They look painful. Not that Arcidiacono ever would let on if they were.

“I got a football background. I try to be mentally and physically tough and do whatever it takes to help our team win,” Arcidiacono said. “I don’t want anyone to see when I’m hurting. I think it’s a mindset that my teammates see in me and my opponents see, as well. If they [see] me sluggish, they’ll try to capitalize on that. I try to be mentally tougher and not let them pounce on anything.”

Does anyone wonder why coach Jim Boylen trusts this guy?

Now, whether Arcidiacono landing in the closing rotation for three straight games over players projected to be ahead of him in the rotation is good for the rebuild is a story for another day. (Spoiler alert: It’s probably not.) This story is about a player who moved from a two-way contract, to a non-guaranteed contract, to a guaranteed contract and now an unexpected rotation spot.

“Arch is helluva basketball player,” coach Jim Boylen said. “He’s a smart kid. He’s a tough kid.”

Arcidiacono’s pursuits of loose balls sometimes lead to comical results. In Monday’s loss to the Bucks, he and fellow Villanova product Donte DiVincenzo chased two on one possession.

“The first one, we dove together,” Arcidiacono said. “And then there was one by the bench, and I told him at the free throw line, ‘I wasn’t diving for that one.’ He said, ‘Yeah, neither was I.’

“That first one was good. It reminded me old practices back at Villanova. Donte is such a great athlete and freak competitor.”

Arcidiacono also tied up Giannis Antetokounmpo twice, leading to separate jump ball situations. The 6-foot-11 Antetokounmpo won both, obviously, and offered something of a back-handed compliement of the 6-foot-3 Arcidiacono, saying, “he’s the only one from the Bulls that’s going diving for the balls on the floor.”

In a savvy move, Arcidiacono actually tried to pawn the jump ball duties off to a taller teammate. It didn’t work.

“I knew I wasn’t going to win. There aren’t many people I’d win against,” Arcidiacono said. “But I’m still going to be competitive, get on the floor.”

Arcidiacono is shooting 50 percent from 3-point range, leading the Bulls in charges taken and averaging 2.1 assists to just 0.5 turnovers. A costly one in the fourth quarter still irked Arcidiacono well after the fact.

“I’m kicking myself,” he said. “I can’t make those plays.”

Through 14 games, the Bulls have been outscored by a staggering 46 points in the fourth quarter. That’s a big reason why they’re 4-10. And it’s also why Arcidiacono is getting this opportunity. Boylen trusts him.

“Competing, making shots, making good deep-drive decisions, taking charges, diving on loose balls, playing winning basketball,” Boylen said when asked why he’s closing with Arcidiacono. “He makes other people better. We need more of that. And he does it.”

Whether he continues to get the opportunity to make plays — positive and otherwise — in the fourth quarter remains to be seen. Whatever happens, Arcidiacono knows his role and takes the right approach.

“I’ve been trying to knock down shots, get the ball moving and make the simple, solid play[s]. I think our team benefits from that,” he said. “Finding Coby [White] in transition and getting him going a little bit helps us. I try to do all the little things — get on the floor, make those little possessions count.

“I’ll play my heart out for this team and this city and do what’s best for the Bulls. If [Boylen] tells me to play, I’ll play. If he wants me to be on the bench, I’ll cheer on my teammates as best I can.”

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Daniel Gafford brings it all in his first meaningful game

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Daniel Gafford brings it all in his first meaningful game

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join Kevin Anderson to discuss Daniel Gafford, Lauri Markkanen’s prolonged slump, and adjusting expectations.

1:30 - Reaction to Daniel Gafford’s breakout game and what he brings to the Bulls

7:10 - The best way to use Gafford moving forward

9:45 - How Gafford and Wendell Carter playing together helps Wendell

10:50 - On Lauri Markkanen’s extended slump and is it time for a lineup change?

14:40 - Will and Kendall on advice they would give Lauri

17:20 - On importance of LaVine and Markkanen and inconsistent minutes

19:30 - Would a game off be a good idea to help Markkanen?

22:15 - Is it time to adjust our expectations for the Bulls this season?

27:00 - At what points will Bulls know what kind of team they are?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast

Subscribe:

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