Zach LaVine

NBA insider reveals most popular item requested by players in Disney bubble

NBA insider reveals most popular item requested by players in Disney bubble

Many NBA players are big time gamers. 

Gordon Hayward is famously obsessed with “Starcraft.” Dwight Howard loves “Call of Duty” so much he appeared in a commercial for the franchise in 2011. Zach LaVine often streams “Call of Duty: Warzone” on his Twitch account. And, seriously, just look at Meyers Leonard’s bubble setup:

 

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Incidentally enough, it turns out the biggest request by players inside the Disney bubble so far is gaming-related. According to NBA writer Keith Smith, who was also 20 years an employee of Disney, the most popular request by players during their first week at the campus was gaming chairs. And it makes sense. No one wants to sit in a normal hotel room chair for four hours when gaming — that includes the top athletes in the world.

“I heard the big delivery in the last two days was gaming chairs, because they don’t want the hotel chairs,” Smith told Jason Goff on the latest episode of the Bulls Talk Podcast. “They’re asking for all sorts of stuff.”

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Also on the show, Smith discussed what life is like inside the bubble for players and team personnel — from extracurricular activities, to food, to security and more. Smith was the first national writer to speculate about Disney as an option for the league to restart its season in an article for Yahoo! Sports back in April, and has been all over the story since.

Smith also shared why he’s optimistic the league will be able to finish despite the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases recently in Florida.

Listen to the latest Bulls Talk Podcast here or via the embedded player above.

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What Bulls’ Coby White must do to maximize tantalizing potential moving forward

What Bulls’ Coby White must do to maximize tantalizing potential moving forward

Every weekday for the next three weeks, NBC Sports Chicago will be breaking down the 15 full-time players on the Bulls' roster, with each week featuring a different position groups. Next up is Coby White.

Past: Zach LaVine

2019-20 Stats

13.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.7 APG | 39.4% FG, 35.4% 3P, 79.1% FT | 23.5% USG

Contract Breakdown

Age: 20

June 2019: Signed 2-year, $10,879,800 rookie-scale contract (one year, plus two team option years remaining for total value of $18,824,395)

2020-21: $5,572,680 | 2021-22: $5,837,760 (team option) | 2022-23: $7,413,955 (team option) | 2023-24: RFA (QO: $9,942,114)

Strengths

Electricity runs through Coby White. It shows in his blinding end-to-end speed, and dances off his fingertips when jumpers are falling. Distilled simply, those are White’s two greatest NBA strengths: He can really run, and he can really shoot it.

His rookie season with the Bulls was a bit uneven (read: everything before the All-Star break) as he acclimated to sporadic playing time and an off-ball role he hadn’t been asked to play in high school and college. But the stretch run validated all those who stood by his scoring prowess. In 10 games post-All-Star-break, White’s minutes bumped to 33.7 per game, and production followed. He averaged 24.7 points and 4.3 assists over that span and shot the air out of the ball, canning 40.7% of 8.6 3s per game (44.8% on 2.9 pull-up 3s per). 

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That torrid shooting was an outlier, but White’s work off the catch was steady all season — he finished the year a 37% marksman on 3.7 3-point attempts per game in that context; he gets his jumper off quickly — and post-All-Star, the Bulls averaged 103.41 possessions with him on the floor and 97.84 with him off, roughly the equivalent difference between the sixth- and 29th-ranked paces in the league. In general, the offense cratered in minutes he sat over that span. All of which is to say, White’s strengths are conducive to the run-and-gun style the Bulls want to play, and he’s liable to catch fire at an instant. 

That White was able to vault the rookie wall he self-admittedly hit is a testament to his work ethic and maturity, which teammates and coaches past and present are quick to laud him for. Those intangibles should only amplify his on-court talents throughout his career. (Oh, he was also one of two Bulls to appear in all 65 of the team’s games this season — for this group, no small feat.)

Areas to Improve

White will enter Year 2 with a number of questions looming over him. Can he man true point guard duties for the Bulls moving forward? Do he and LaVine comprise a tenable starting backcourt defensively? Can White once and for all kick the microwave scorer rep and be a reliable option on a nightly basis, regardless of whether the jumper is falling? What’s his role if the Bulls draft a lead guard with their upcoming lottery pick?

Unfortunately, evaluation on all those fronts was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, which halted the NBA season with White fresh off his first career start, and LaVine sidelined with a quad injury. What we do know is that White’s dynamism and off-ball adaptability make him an exciting backcourt mate for LaVine on the offensive end if he finds consistency. Underwhelming season-long shooting numbers (39.4% FG) are a reminder that’s not a guarantee yet, but, man...

 

An average athlete with a 6-foot-5 wingspan, White will also have a hill to climb to be an above-average defender at either guard spot, and an above-average finisher around the cup. His speed and shooting ability grant him gravitational pull on the offensive end, but he’s still unproven as a facilitator, logging just a 13th percentile assist-to-usage ratio (0.67) in Year 1. To be an ideal partner for LaVine, his defending and playmaking will have to trend upwards.

White is unquestionably a bucket, and with how hard he works, it’s reasonable to expect continued progression on all those fronts — in his rookie season, his restricted area field goal percentage ticked up every month, he competed hard on the defensive end and passing lanes opened up as the game slowed down for him over time. A larger sample size will tell us more, but optimism is warranted.

Ceiling Projection

White’s speed is truly unnatural, and if his jumpshot steadies out, he has the tricks in his bag to be a 20-point scorer and game-breaking transition threat. That alone would make him a quality starter in the league for many years. While his defense will likely always be a question mark, bumping his assist average into the five-to-seven range would be the key to unlocking All-Star level potential.

But if we’re being real, it’s silly to slap a ceiling on a just-turned 20-year-old who improved so markedly in his first season. The sky’s the limit for Coby.

RELATED: Does Bulls’ Coby White have All-Star potential? One NBA insider thinks so

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How Bulls' Zach LaVine surged to stardom in breakout 2019-20 season

How Bulls' Zach LaVine surged to stardom in breakout 2019-20 season

Every weekday for the next three weeks, NBC Sports Chicago will be breaking down the 15 full-time players on the Bulls' roster, with each week featuring a different position groups. First up is the guards, and to kick it off, Zach LaVine, who took another seismic step in his sixth season.

2019-20 Stats

25.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.2 APG | 45% FG, 38% 3P, 80.2% FT | 31.2% USG

Contract Breakdown

Age: 25

July 2018: Signed 4-year, $78 million contract (two years, $39 million remaining)

2020-21: $19,500,000 | 2021-22: $19,500,000 | 2022-23: UFA

Strengths

LaVine is a prolific and multi-faceted scorer, and he does it in every way you’d want from a modern offensive star. His career-high 25.5-point-per-game scoring average (12th in the NBA) in 2019-20 came on a steady diet of 3s (38% on 8.1 attempts per game; 36.4% on a high volume of pull-ups) and layups (8.1 restricted area attempts per game, third among guards), many of which were high-difficulty in the Bulls’ cramped offense. He carried a top-10 load, but his production wasn’t all volume and empty calories. Among 13 qualified players with usage rates north of 30%, LaVine currently slots fifth in effective field goal percentage (52.6%), and the Bulls’ offense was 3.9 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor in non-garbage time minutes — an 80th percentile mark, per Cleaning the Glass.

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With his head down, he’s near impossible to stay in front of, he can jump out of the gym and fire from the logo. When all of that works in concert — as it did in his 49-point, 13 3-pointer outing in Charlotte, among other explosive performances — he’s virtually unguardable, and the show marched on with remarkable consistency this season. LaVine started 60 of the Bulls’ 65 games in 2019-20, and scored 20+ points in 45; he logged more 30-point outings (18) than any other Bull had 20-pointers, and his six 40-point nights ranked fifth in the NBA. And talents come with an edge — consider that the Charlotte outburst came one night after being pulled from a game for "three egregious defensive mistakes."

Add strides as a defender, playmaker and locker-room leader to all of the above, and we’re talking about a burgeoning star in the league. At 25, his prime lies ahead, and he's gotten better in each of his two full seasons since tearing his ACL in 2017.

Areas to Improve

We have to start on the defensive end, a favorite of LaVine detractors and generally a mixed bag. The good: In 2019-20, LaVine displayed both willingness to consistently engage on that end of the floor, and the athleticism to hound passing lanes and hang with certain wings on-ball — all of which resulted in him posting career-high steal (2%) and block (1.3%) rates. Undeniable improvements, albeit in an aggressive, turnover-happy system. But the bad: Occasional lapses off-ball and on help rotations persisted, and the Bulls’ defense was 10 points per 100 possessions worse with LaVine on the floor this season. There’s noise in there — the Bulls’ most-used lineup featured LaVine and had a 97.1 defensive rating, he’s not destructive — but ominous nonetheless.

On the offensive end, there are two holes to poke. The big one lies in his playmaking. Of that same 13-player 30-plus-percent usage sample, LaVine ranks 12th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.23), ahead of only Joel Embiid, and 11th in assist rate (21.8%). Inextricable from those numbers is how battered down and ineffective most of the offensive options around him were all season, which allowed opponents to hurl double-teams at LaVine on a nightly basis. Still, as the centerpiece of the offense, there’s room to grow in the halfcourt consistently executing pick-and-roll reads and not succumbing to one-track mindedness on drives. Despite memorable flashes, LaVine's overall numbers in the clutch (33% FG, four total assists) lagged this season, in part due to the above factors. 

And a knit-pick: his foul-drawing. Given how frequently LaVine gets to the cup, and how much the ball is in his hands, you might want to see him average more than 5.6 free throw attempts per game — not a paltry figure, but just outside the most notorious offensive boons in the league. Some of that relies on getting whistles, but attracting contact on drives is an acquired skill. It’s the easiest way for him to bump his scoring into the high 20s or low 30s per game.

Ceiling Projection

Right now, LaVine’s production makes his contract inordinately team-friendly; he’s the only non-rookie-contract player in the league averaging more than 25 points per game and making less than $25 million, annually. There’s two years remaining on that deal, and LaVine will want big money at the end of it, possibly even a max. Does his ceiling match what that type of commitment connotes? That’s a decision the Bulls will need to make soon. 

Given what he's shown, there's no reason LaVine shouldn’t continue to blossom into a perennial top-5-to-10 scorer, and All-Star, as he moves through his prime. Whether he can drive winning basketball in Chicago probably depends most on the deck-shuffling the Bulls’ new front office regime enacts. At least individually, he appears ready for it.

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