Bulls

Zach LaVine-James Harden matchup will showcase differing styles of being the 1st scoring option

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USA TODAY

Zach LaVine-James Harden matchup will showcase differing styles of being the 1st scoring option

The Bulls made some key changes entering the 20129-20 season, adding vital talent to both the coaching staff and the roster. With a new-look team trying to make a big improvement following a lackluster, 22-win season, it was expected that Bulls star Zach LaVine would be asked to play somewhat differently, specifically with the addition of former Brooklyn Nets assistant coach Chris Fleming.

LaVine was asked to change his game in some aspects and through nine games, the results have been encouraging, but of course, with room for improvement.

In the 2018-19 season, LaVine averaged 0.96 points per possession, shooting 41.3% on 2.4 field goal attempts per game on isolation plays.

While he was nowhere near the level of isolation-master or free throw magnet that James Harden was, who comes to town on Saturday night, LaVine was in the 72nd percentile in isolation scoring, making him one of the better iso scorers in the league and certainly on the Bulls. In 2018-19, LaVine also attempted six free throw attempts per game, knocking them down at an 83.2% rate.

That has changed in a big way over the first nine games of the 2019-20 season.

LaVine's free throw average has dropped to 4.1 attempts per game. And though he has not played less out of isolation plays—LaVine is still averaging 2.4 field goal attempts per game in isos—his field goal percentage in isolation plays has dropped to a paltry 27.3%.

It's early enough in the season to expect that figure to go up considerably, but the fact that he has been a quality offensive player without feasting on isos is encouraging.

LaVine's offensive game has strayed away from what Harden's is—i.e., lots of pick-and-rolls and isolations—and more towards that of an on and off-ball scorer, again, with positive results so far.

Through nine games LaVine's offensive rating (points per 100 possessions via NBA.com) is 107.0, up from 105.8 last season, and a big reason for that is his shot distribution.

As visible through the above shot chart, this season LaVine is eschewing the midrange in favor of a more aggressive approach from the 3-point line and a continued commitment to getting to the rim. Through nine games this season, LaVine is shooting 1.1 midrange shots per game after taking 3.7 midrange field goal attempts per game last season.

What that shot chart doesn't show is how LaVine is getting his shots.

LaVine used pick-and-rolls much more frequently last season, scoring 0.90 points per possession on 9.6 pick-and-roll possessions per game. This season he has scored 0.98 points per possession but only on 6.3 pick-and-roll possessions per game.

His new bread-and-butter plays outside of transition offense and (slightly less) pick-and-rolls include more spot-up 3-pointers, catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, and handoffs. What all this means is that LaVne is truly trying to keep the rock moving, adhering to Boylen's "0.5 seconds" rule.

Among the most significant figures, LaVine is shooting 42.9% this season on 3.1 pull up 3-point attempts per game, 33.3% on 3.0 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts per game—up from 1.7 catch and shoot 3-point attempts per game last season—and his average seconds per touch is down from 4.57 seconds last season to 3.62 seconds so far in 2019-20.

LaVine's slightly altered style of play — no doubt heavily influenced by Fleming, Boylen and the rest of the Bulls organization — has opened up the door for Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr., Wendell Carter Jr, Tomas Satoransky and Coby White to have role significant roles in the offense.

This has had mixed results so far, as evidenced by the Bulls' currently 23rd ranked offense, but things have still been a step up from last year's 29th ranked offense.

Small sample size alert always applies this early in the regular season but things are looking up for Zach LaVine.

While LaVine's defense still has a long way to go, he is posting a career-high 1.8 steals per 100 possessions and again, through nine games, his new-look shot distribution has lead to the second-best offensive rating (107.0) of his career.

Saturday night's Bulls-Rockets game will be a great showcase for Bulls fans to see LaVine's new-look game, featuring an efficient off-ball offense against the contrasting style of Harden, who will force the Bulls to defend upwards of 11 isolations.

If LaVine can help the Bulls get off to another fast start — Chicago scored 33 points in the first quarter of Wednesday's win over the Hawks — then they have a great shot at beating a defense-averse Rockets team.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls lose to Warriors for 2nd time in 10 days

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USA TODAY

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls lose to Warriors for 2nd time in 10 days

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 100-98 loss to the Warriors

0:45 - Reaction to loss and Bulls losing to Warriors again

2:30 - On 4th quarter struggles

3:30 - On Zach LaVine’s game-winning shot attempt

5:20 - Viewer comments on Coby White starting

9:20 - Viewer comment on Denzel Valentine leads to Matt rant

10:20 - Viewer comment on Wendell Carter

12:10 - Viewer comment on Sato needing to be more aggressive

13:30 - Viewer comment on Luke Kornet

16:35 - Viewer comment on Denzel Valentine talking trash to Warriors

18:00 - On LaVine not being the issue

19:00 - On Otto Porter’s injury and being out indefinitely

22:10 - Viewer comment on Bulls being contenders

23:50 - Viewer comment asking why Matt is always angry

24:50 - Viewer asking Sabine how he feels about the Bears beating the Cowboys

26:20 - Which team is more likely to make playoffs, Bears or Bulls?

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

Bulls Outsiders

Subscribe:

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Lauri Markkanen inspires, then fades in emblematic loss to Warriors

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Lauri Markkanen inspires, then fades in emblematic loss to Warriors

When Lauri Markkanen is on, it's inspired. And he was 'on' in the first half of the Bulls' eventual 100-98 loss to the league-worst (entering the night) 4-19 Warriors. 

In fact, there were stretches when it appeared he just might save the Bulls from their second (second!) loss of the season to Golden State.

See: the opening five minutes of the second quarter. The Warriors, trailing 28-23 at the end of the first period, were on a 16-5 run. You could call it a spurt, but it felt more like an avalanche. The Bulls' bench had gone cold, Ky Bowman and Omari Spellman were raining hellfire and the United Center was despondent.

Then, Markkanen awoke. It all started on a pick-and-pop action between Markkanen and Denzel Valentine. With the Warriors flat-footed and scrambling to rotate, Markkanen reeled in a bounce-pass from Valentine at the top of the key and rifled a side-armed bullet to Daniel Gafford, awaiting free and clear in the paint. This is a delightful play, and a rare one for Markkanen this season:

Two straight 3-pointers (one on another pick-and-pop possession in concert with Zach LaVine) followed that, then a cutting dunk to knot the game 41-41. Markkanen finished the half leading the game in points (17), field goals made and attempted (shooting 7-for-11) and 3-pointers, on which he was 3-for-6. The Bulls were ahead 51-50. Too close for comfort, yes, (especially for this team) but in the moment, that Markkanen sequence felt like a true leadership moment. He was carrying the team.

Zach LaVine, after all, hadn't scored until the under two minutes until the half.

"I was getting good looks, my teammates were finding me, and I was getting to the rim," Markkanen said. "No matter how they were guarding me, we found something that worked for us."

Markkanen then proceeded to not score for over 25 minutes of game action, totaling three points in the second half on 1-for-6 shooting. After the game, Jim Boylen was unsure of what exactly changed for Markkanen of the second, but the taste in his mouth was evidently sour.

"I don't know. I mean, sometimes people adjust? They adjust to a guy who's got it going and they change. Sometimes the ball doesn't go in," Boylen said. "That's the game."

Boylen added that he liked the look Markkanen got on a 3-pointer late in the fourth that, at the time, tied the game 97-97. It was the only shot Markkanen made after the 4:48 mark of the second quarter.

"The team goes on spurts," Markkanen offered as explanation. "We go on little runs and they go on runs. That's how the game is, and I feel like we did a good job feeding the hot guy. When Zach got going in the second half, we did the same thing, so... I think that's part of it."

LaVine scored 21 of his 22 points in the game over a seven-minute stretch between the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third. For the third time this season (and second time in three games), LaVine and Markkanen each tallied 20 points. It rang hollow.

So did the team's end-of-fourth-quarter execution, an area they excelled in over the two-game win streak they rode into this one. LaVine, again, controlled the majority of the team's crunch-time possessions, but this time, the team fell short — mustering only 15 points in the final period.

"We could've executed, not turned the ball over," Markkanen said. "Simple plays. Obviously everybody's going to look at the last play, but it's not about that. We had some good looks before that that we gotta make the plays that we need to finish the game off."

Markkanen committed two turnovers and bricked a forced, late-shot clock jumper in the final two minutes. "I could have done a better job making the plays I needed," he conceded.

Ultimately, the Bulls go as LaVine and Markkanen do. Their play reflected the team's generally polarizing offense. After two games of fresher air, Markkanen — 'back' for a half, a leader on the floor — is, too.

"You know, that's part of the learning," Boylen said. "People adjust in the second half to what you did in the first, and you gotta adjust again."

What that adjustment will be remains to be seen.