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Chicago Bulls: 2018-19 player grades for Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine enjoyed a breakout season for the Chicago Bulls in 2018-19. Despite the lack of team success, LaVine’s star rose this season. Here are his player grades.

When the Chicago Bulls matched the Sacramento Kings’ offer sheet for guard Zach LaVine, much was made about the contract he received. Still recovering from a serious knee injury, there was plenty of concern about whether the uber-athletic guard was worthy of the four-year, $78 million deal.

Now, one year later, Lavine’s deal might seem like a bargain. The UCLA product established career highs in points, rebounds and assists in his fifth NBA season. He averaged 23.7 points, 4.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game for the Bulls in 2018-19. He also posted a career-high 46.7 percent shooting from the field, including 37.4 percent from 3-point range.

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There are still plenty of questions surrounding LaVine’s overall value to the Bulls. He’s certainly a dynamic offensive player. However, can the Bulls win with LaVine being a focal point of their offense? Can he be enough of a playmaker to push his team toward playoff contention? His overall defensive outlook is dismal, though he’s shown to be a decent on-ball defender.

What then, is his overall grade for this past season? Let’s dive into LaVine’s 2018-19 campaign and find out.

Offensively, LaVine is a pure scorer

Zach LaVine is a highlight package every single night for the Chicago Bulls. It’s that simple. To the average fan, he’s the epitome of NBA entertainment. He’s flashy, athletic and his dunk game is second to none. His shot is pretty and he can score from deep with ease. How though, does that translate to actual winning basketball?

If we’re grading LaVine on his offensive basketball acumen, we’ll end up with a much higher grade than his overall grade would indicate. For starters, he’s seized the mantle as the Bulls’ go-to scorer. He’s embraced the challenge of taking the big shot, unafraid of failure, which is a must-have trait for big-time players.

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Zach LaVine does not disappoint. 39 points AND he even scored an awesome game winner: pic.twitter.com/C16ME53nFF

— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) March 7, 2019

He had a great start to the season, scoring 20-plus in the Bulls’ first 14 games. For the season, LaVine scored at least 20 points 44 times, scored over 30 points 11 times, and went over 40-point mark twice. His season-high 47 points came in an epic quadruple-overtime win over the Atlanta Hawks in March.

Sometimes we see a drop-off in production after the All-Star break, but not so with LaVine. He turned it on after the break, finishing his last 12 games played averaging 26.7 points per game on 48.7 percent shooting, including 46.4 percent from downtown.

When the Bulls were at their best this season (5-5 in February), perhaps not so coincidentally, LaVine averaged 5.9 assists per game — his highest average of any month.

Offensive grade: A

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Defensively, LaVine is, well, not great. He could be though

Zach LaVine’s defense has been well documented since he arrived in the NBA with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He’s struggled with that end of the court his entire career. His defensive struggles are puzzling, since a player with his athletic prowess should possess at least manageable defensive abilities.

To be fair, LaVine’s on-ball defense is actually somewhat sound — at times. He’s athletic enough to stay in front of his man when he’s focused. LaVine struggles with consistency here though. Sometimes it appears that he just gets lazy and lets his man through for easy layups.

Off the ball, LaVine is abysmal. While he may jump the lanes occasionally for steals and flashy dunks, too often he falls asleep and loses track of his man. Here is where he lacks proper defensive awareness to contribute positively. It remains to be seen whether this is an area that LaVine can improve.

Defensive grade: D

When it comes to intangibles, LaVine’s voice carries weight

Even the most casual of Chicago Bulls fans will always remember the near revolt that developed after the team’s franchise-worst loss against the Boston Celtics. LaVine’s comments to the media after that game may have been what triggered the events. It was clear from the beginning of head coach Jim Boylen’s takeover that LaVine wasn’t a fan of Boylen or his seemingly elementary tactics.

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Fast forward to March when the Bulls guard offered to pay Boylen’s fine after an ejection against the Sacramento Kings. Things can change in a hurry, huh? In fact, LaVine’s acceptance of Boylen may have played a key factor in the front office extending Boylen this offseason.

LaVine may have some shortcomings. He may hold the ball too much offensively and allows too many scores defensively, but he’s a clear leader of the team. He’s their go-to scorer and best offensive player. However, he’s not remotely close to being a sound defensive player, and until he is, the team will struggle to win ball games.

Intangible grade: B-

Zach LaVine will continue to shine for the Chicago Bulls

After completing the first season of his $19 million per year deal, Zach LaVine is practically a bargain for the Chicago Bulls. Considering he’s not even the highest-paid player on his team (those honors go to Otto Porter Jr.), the Bulls are getting plenty of production from their shooting guard.

The key for the team is to surround LaVine with as much defensive help as possible. Wendell Carter Jr. and Kris Dunn are strong defenders, and if the team replaces Dunn as starting point guard, LaVine will need another strong defensive backcourt mate.

From the fans to the front office, the expectation for the LaVine should continue to be this: Let him do what he’s best at, and that’s score the basketball. He did that well enough this past season to earn a good overall grade. As the rebuild continues into the offseason, the one thing the team can count on is that the hard-working LaVine will continue to improve. He should be a 20-plus points per game scorer for quite some time.

Overall grade: B

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