LaVine Carrying Hefty Offensive Burden For Bulls

Zach LaVine has the fourth-highest usage rate in the NBA.

Cody Westerlund
November 12, 2018 - 11:13 pm
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CHICAGO (670 The Score) – Bulls guard Zach LaVine extended his streak of consecutive games with 20 or more points to 15 on Monday evening, a run that includes the first 14 games of this season. His offensive consistency has resulted in the distinction of being the lone player in the NBA to reach the 20-point threshold in each of his team’s games this season, but in the aftermath of a 103-98 loss to the Mavericks at the United Center, the narrative detoured elsewhere.

It revolved around whether LaVine was being asked to do too much.

“I’m tired, but I’m all right,” LaVine said after logging 41-plus minutes and scoring 26 points on 8-of-23 shooting Monday. “I made some mistakes, missed some shots that were real easy, didn’t hit any threes today. I got easy things I can do better.”

The offensive burden that LaVine is being asked to carry with four key teammates sidelined by injury is weighty. He has a 32.8 percent usage rate, the fourth-highest mark in the NBA (minimum 200 minutes), trailing only James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Put another way, nearly one-third of the Bulls’ possessions are being used by LaVine. And he was averaging 27.2 points, the fifth-best mark in the league, entering play Monday night while shooting 45.6 percent and averaging a career-best 7.5 free-throw attempts.

LaVine’s hot start has drawn him newfound attention. More and more of late, he has noticed a second defender blitzing him in pick-and-roll situations. That tactic has often left LaVine with a tough choice: trust his skills with a foray into a defense fortified for his attack or put the ball in the hands of a teammate who isn’t a playmaker.

Part of the trouble Monday was that rookie Wendell Carter Jr., the Bulls’ best passing big man, was plagued with foul trouble in the first half and didn’t find his rhythm at any point. It made the quick pocket pass from LaVine to his screener a less attractive option on this evening, and LaVine ended up out of sync himself with seven turnovers.

“They started blitzing a little bit higher,” LaVine said. “I got to make a better decision or a quicker decision. I passed two away, and I had one slip out of my hands. I have to do a better job of taking care of the ball. I know I’m making the right reads. I just got to be more careful with it.”

LaVine has kept his scoring volume up lately but hasn’t been as efficient, shooting 26-of-71 (36.6 percent) in the past three games. The defensive attention that LaVine is encountering nowadays will recede eventually, when reinforcements arrive in the form of the injured Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine.

The catch is none of them are particularly close to a return yet, with Markkanen representing the nearest hope while being out at least two to four more weeks. So for now the Bulls (4-10) will work with what they have, and LaVine will shoulder a heavy load without complaint.

Because really, there’s no other choice.

“I give Zach a lot credit,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “For as much volume as he has at the offensive end right now, for as much as we’re playing through him, he’s growing on making the simple play and getting better with that. It needs to continue. We just need to make the right play.”

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.