Bulls

LaVine Doesn’t Fit Bulls’ Future

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The Chicago Bulls’ future was in shambles not too long ago.

They were 5-14, and their star ‘big three’ had a net rating of -13.1 points per 100 possessions together.

On top of that, key young pieces that this franchise invested lottery picks into — Coby White and Patrick Williams — were having seasons that could’ve only been described as dismal at best. Particularly Williams, who lacked intensity and inside aggression. It took him six games to attempt his first layup of the year. In those six games, he played an average of 22.2 minutes per contest. The numbers speak for themselves.

Just when it seemed like nothing could get any worse, Zach LaVine went down with an injury. This not only (seemingly) putting an end to their season, but undoubtedly lowered his trade value amidst the reports of the franchise shopping him around. There was no distinct timetable put on his return, and Bulls Twitter descended into misery.

So when (and how) did it all change?

The very next day they were set to play the Milwaukee Bucks, who arguably have the best duo in the league in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard.

But then something miraculous happened. There was a different feel about the team. Those who watched it live will agree on the strange spark that appeared to ignite a fire from the opening tip. White exploded on his way to 23 points and seven assists. Williams scored a season-high 12 points while adding two steals and a block. Alex Caruso hit a late shot to send the game into overtime and the home fans into delirium. They pulled out through overtime with a memorable win.

Over the ensuing games, the White and Williams tandem continued to build their connection. White put up nearly 24 points, six rebounds, and six assists per game on 51% shooting and 48% from three. Williams added 14 points, five rebounds, three assists and nearly two and a half ‘stocks’ (steals and blocks) per game, on 50/49/64 shooting splits.

The Bulls won 10 of the last 15 games of 2023 when LaVine was out, flying up from the depths of the Eastern Conference to banging down the door of the Play-In Tournament. It’s very easy to simply say LaVine was holding them back, but that is a lazy argument.

In a vacuum, LaVine is still one of the best offensive talents in the league— he just doesn’t fit the Bulls. White and Jevon Carter have a skill overlap with LaVine, which is not ideal for roster construction. What this means is that, while they may not do it as well as he does it, they can achieve they can score in isolation and the perimeter at similar efficiency and a lower usage rate.

While this may not seem the end of the world, it renders LaVine redundant on the offensive end. This situation is further accentuated by the fact that LaVine has never been an above-replacement-level defender on a team that already struggles to defend for four quarters.

He’s already bringing down the Bulls’ defensive floor. Pair that with this newfound lack of offensive importance, and you have a player who does not positively impact winning (hence why he has a negative +/- of 84 points in the games he HAS played this season).

What was the Problem?

The problem isn’t that LaVine simply isn’t talented anymore, he merely doesn’t fit what this squad is trying to do.

He would bring immense value to a few different contending teams that lack isolation scoring and perimeter shooting (the Lakers are the first that come to mind). But the Bulls simply don’t need him. With this surprising development alongside the rapid growth of White and Williams, the Bulls should be excited to enter rebuild mode.

Why? Because they won’t be there for long.

So where to go from here?

The Bulls are currently on track to receive a late lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

This means they will likely be in the range of several elite prospects, some of whom would perfectly slot in alongside their core of the future. Talents such as Ja’Kobe Walters, Stephon Castle and Robert Dillingham will likely all be within the Bulls’ range. Not only are they immensely talented, but each projects as a fit within the Bulls’ current build.

This team has had a miraculous turnaround, from directionless and hopelessness to a fresh level of excitement and desire. Both Bulls fans and NBA fans alike should be excited for what’s to come.

About Nic Thomas

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