Zach LaVine is hurt and bad again, so the Bulls remain in place

Jan 25, 2023 - 7:02 PM
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Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

I don’t know about the lot of you, but this here blog declared the season over already. Not swayed by the 3 game win streak, and not swayed by another crushing loss to an undermanned opponent.

This team won’t be consistently good because the players aren’t consistently good. I saw last night’s team partner post-game show sort of imply that this is DeMar DeRozan’s fault for making the Bulls offense too isolation heavy.

To give some credit first on this line of analysis: yes DeMar is poor defensively, and was playing much of the 4th quarter with 5 fouls which made him even worse.

So in that debacle of a 2nd half in Indiana, DeMar was a team-worst minus-21 in a team-high 22 minutes. But he also had a by-far team-high of 22 points, on 9-12 shooting with 2 assists and zero turnovers.

DeRozan was being double-teamed pretty aggressively, which meant even if you think it’s not his favorite thing to do, he tried to get his teammates to help. But it was the Bulls second-best player who really let the team down.

Will Gottlieb broke it down expertly at CHGO:

If ball pressure is enough to affect the ability to dribble, pass and get into offense, there are bigger problems. And maybe, with LaVine’s hand injury, there are bigger problems than that.

LaVine is shooting 4-of-36 on 3-point attempts since injuring his knuckle against the Wizards on December 11. He was 0-of-7 on threes Tuesday night, which lead to forced offense and cascaded into bad decision-making.

“I’m playing with a messed-up finger on my shooting hand,” LaVine said when asked whether his hand injury was affecting him. “You can see by the numbers I’m not shooting the ball well from 3. I can still get to the cup and shoot FTs and midrange. It’s affecting my shot. But it won’t keep me from trying to help contribute”

As the not-really-missed-at-all Neil Funk used to say, “you’re playing hard but you’re hurting us”.

This season has ebbed and flowed with Zach, it seems. We don’t need to get into the existential debate of LaVine as a max player and his own desire to take a larger role. His mistakes in crunch time are a career-long issue. LaVine can be worth the contract by merely being the secondary option who’s extremely good at three-level scoring. But when he’s less than that, it’s been a huge problem. The beginning of the season saw Zach recovering from his offseason knee surgery and that leading to missed games and missed inside finishes. Then over the last 5 weeks or so, he not only got back to his career norms on the inside but started launching with greater volume and accuracy from the outside.

If he’s not taking and hitting threes, like now after this finger injury, it’s a huge problem for his effectiveness and the team’s offense, as the front office has seemingly abdicated responsibility for adding shooting talent to the roster.

Because we also know from watching Bulls games this season that nobody else can help much. Nikola Vucevic had been on a real heater, but last night after making two threes in the first few minutes didn’t even attempt another all game.

What about Patrick Williams? His ‘on-ball juice’ is more like spoiled milk:


And none of the other role players are consistent enough to be dependable. Ayo Dosunmu, Coby White, Alex Caruso, and Derrick Jones went a combined 2-12 from three, and Coby had 7 of those attempts.

That’s the offensive problem. Bulls got killed on the glass and Andre Drummond has been relegated to a situational player, when the situation calls for your team going -7 in under 6 minutes of play. And nobody can seriously believe this roster has the foundation of a good defense, no matter how you want to slice up the season into spasms of quality defensive metrics.

The Bulls are going to have more good stretches of games, especially heading into the deadline. I’d hope by now the fanbase will no longer be fooled by them. I really hope the front office isn’t.

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