Zach LaVine’s Decision Making Must Be on Point for Bulls’ Offense – NBC Chicago

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Why LaVine’s decision making will be crucial for Bulls originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

If the scoring averages of Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan dip this season but that of Nikola Vučević rises, what would LaVine say?

“I don’t think anybody’s complaining at all,” LaVine said. “As long as we get the win and everybody is playing the way we’re supposed to, everybody’s going to be happy. The same way it was last year when we were winning all those games at the beginning of the year.”

Indeed, the above hypothetical certainly could lead to the Chicago Bulls improving on last season’s 46-36 mark, which also comprised part of the question to LaVine following a recent practice. That’s because the Bulls projected to be on a 50-win pace before injuries hit and the Bulls moved from a more balanced offensive attack predicated on defense to a more isolation-heavy look. It became predictable and, to use coach Billy Donovan’s words, stagnant.

“We’ve all been main options,” LaVine said of himself, DeRozan and Vučević. “When things get a little tougher in the game, I think that’s when we look to our own ability to try to implement ourselves. But we need to look more inward and play more as a unit. That’s what we’re working on.”

Indeed, that’s the goal of Donovan and his staff’s offensive tweaks, which during the preseason featured utilizing Vučević in different areas than just mainly on the perimeter, an increased emphasis on paint touches and more randomness resulting from read-and-react decisions.

“What’s different is probably less holding the ball,” LaVine said. “From what I’ve seen, we’re still going to be able to get our isolation touches. But it’s a lot more read and react, quick decision-making.

“I know I have a habit sometimes of trying to do it on my own. That’s something we’re working out, trying to figure out a way to implement my scoring into the game but also playing off the ball. More catch-and-shoots. Transition. Easy baskets. I’m all for that.”

This type of introspection is rare from an uber-confident, alpha scorer like LaVine. It’s why Donovan is confident his and his staff’s tweaks, which certainly could lead to less isolation plays for LaVine, will work.

“For Zach, you’ve got to look that it’s always been about the team,” Donovan said. “My first year here—and just calling it like it was—he was the only guy who could really make a play at the end of the game off the dribble. We just didn’t have breakdown guards. Thad (Young) was great when we played him in the pocket or elbow and guys could cut and move around him. But that was the only two sources of offense getting generated.

“Now you add DeMar and Vooch and some other pieces, this is different. All these guys look at ways our team can get better and they can get better. And they have enough confidence in their own offensive ability that they’ll figure out where those spots are at.”

That was the question posed to Donovan: In this idealized version of read-and-react offensive, from where will LaVine’s shots come?

“Where he exactly gets his shots is going to depend on if there’s penetration, how well does he relocate to open areas? How well does he get out in transition? The more the ball moves, the less those guys play in a crowd,” Donovan said. “It’s him reading and reacting. It’s him taking his shots when he’s got them. It’s him taking his drives when he’s got them. It’s about making quick decisions and being decisive.

“Zach is really smart and bright and obviously an elite offensive player. So there are going to be times where, yeah, you’re going to play call for him to try to get him a shot. But in the flow of the game, there should be opportunities for him and DeMar and Vooch to read and take advantage of what’s there for them.”

LaVine’s decision-making occasionally has drawn scrutiny over the years. While it has improved consistently, he still has lapses where he becomes turnover-prone. That certainly was the case during an underwhelming preseason in which LaVine, who typically scrimmages during the offseason, tried to work his way into game shape after undergoing an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee.

LaVine averaged 3.3 turnovers in just under 22 minutes over 2 ½ preseason games. That average rivaled the averages LaVine posted—in over 12 more minutes per game—as he carried the Bulls through the lean years of a rebuilding process.

“Sometimes people may say his reading wasn’t great—and maybe it wasn’t,” Donovan said. “But sometimes it’s hard to make reads when you feel like you’re the guy who has to make a play all the time.”

Indeed, LaVine’s turnovers dropped to 2.6 per game in close to 35 minutes last season, his first surrounded by All-Star talent like DeRozan and Vučević.

LaVine isn’t focused on his preseason numbers anyway, merely his preseason pain tolerance not getting tested.

“I felt good. I was working my way into it for sure though. I didn’t want to just come out of not playing and try to do things I wasn’t ready for. To use training camp and preseason for the first time to really get into game shape and to feel the game out is fine,” LaVine said. “The main thing is I’m healthy and I feel really good and I’m getting to know the new offense and new team. 

“Not having any aches and pains and being able to play without any limitations in my own mind is huge. Like, ‘OK, I can’t go left. Or I might not be able to dunk this play.’ You’re not supposed to be thinking that way when you’re playing basketball. And I was dealing with that a lot last year. I’m just happy I feel better.”

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