When Jimmy Butler was traded to the Timberwolves on draft night 2017, the Bulls moved up to No. 7 in the draft and gained Kris Dunn and, more notably, Zach LaVine. Given LaVine’s reputation as a dynamic and explosive guard known for his highlight-making, crowd-pleasing dunking ability and his accolades (winner of the 2015 and 2016 dunk contests) that prove just that, Chicago had reason to be excited despite the departure of their latest star.
But the Bulls and their fans would have to wait for that Zach LaVine. Until he recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament injury, they’d have an injured Zach LaVine watching from the sidelines.
Over 11 months after first suffering his ACL tear and nearly seven months after joining Chicago, LaVine played his first official game as a Bull on Jan. 13. He was limited to 20 minutes, but he made the most of them, putting up 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting and 3-for-4 on 3-pointers. He was even more efficient in his second game back: 18 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals.
Eight games into his Bulls career, LaVine is averaging 12.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists and has scored in double figures five times. But he has had shooting struggles.
Half of LaVine’s games so far have featured phenomenal shooting — as in 46.7 percent or higher — and the other half has featured shooting percentages from 16.7 to 22.2 percent. The fewest amount of field goals he has attempted in a game this season is nine, so it’s not like the poor percentages come as a result of small sample sizes.
Most recently, in the Bulls’ 110-96 loss to the Bucks on Sunday afternoon, he shot 2-for-11 in 26 minutes. In Friday night’s game, a 108-103 loss to the Lakers, LaVine went 3-for-17 in 25 minutes. With figures like that, criticism is inevitable, but fans shouldn’t be so quick to complain about his recent performances.
LaVine’s slump was inevitable. He’s coming back from an ACL injury in the middle of the season. He’s still getting a feel for the game and what it’s like to actually play with his team and not just practice with them. He’s not in mid-season form like most of his NBA peers. It doesn’t help that the Bulls as a whole are struggling either; it just makes it more difficult for him to find his rhythm.
But LaVine can bounce back from bad games. And he’s more than just a scorer, so even when he can’t score, he still has something to offer.
In his third game, LaVine had his worst shooting night of the season at 2-for-12 from the field; given the fact this was against the Warriors, such a performance is expected. In his next game, he was 2-of-9 in a win over the Hawks but still contributed a near double-double of eight points and nine rebounds. He followed that pair of games by going 7-for-15 and 8-for-15 from the field and grabbing five and seven rebounds, respectively, in the games that followed.
It’s also worth noting that LaVine’s shooting struggles come from a small sample size. Two straight games of bad shooting isn’t great, but it’s no reason to put such importance on these numbers. It’d be a bit different if he shot poorly for four straight games, but that’s not the case.
What’s important is LaVine is aware of his slump and is doing what he needs to in order to fix it. What’s important is LaVine has returned from his injury without doubts he came back too soon. What’s important is LaVine isn’t being rushed into too big of a role and has a minutes restriction to prevent getting hurt again. What’s important is LaVine has shown he’s still capable of being the explosive, effective player he came to be in Minnesota, and he’ll be that player in Chicago, too. It’ll just take time and patience.
Ashley is the owner/editor of The Bulls Charge. Follow her on Twitter at @wijangco12.