Chicago Bulls: A deep dive into Zach LaVine’s scoring ability as he hits trade block

Apr 14, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) dunks the basketball during the third quarter against the Miami Heat at Kaseya Center. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 14, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) dunks the basketball during the third quarter against the Miami Heat at Kaseya Center. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports /
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Zach LaVine
Chicago Bulls Zach LaVine (David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports) /

Zach LaVine’s ability to score from anywhere on the floor in any context makes him a great offensive player.

LaVine is very comfortable in creating his own shot, as he has the dynamic ability to get to step-backs, pull-ups, or blowing by his man to drive to the basket. There’s no clear solution to slow him down as a defense because of this. His 1.05 points per possession scored in isolation ranks him in the 99th percentile.

This is unlocked by his true three-level scoring ability. He gets to the rim at a high rate and is incredibly effective in doing so. He uses his athletic burst and good handle to blow by defenders. If he’s going at a big in drop coverage and has a full head of speed, just wish the big man good luck because LaVine is exploding to the rim. Simply put, he’s one of the best finishers in the league when combining his ability to get to the rim and finish.

With his ability to get to the rim, he is also skilled at getting to the free-throw line, taking 5.6 free throws per game last season. He’s a force like few others when getting downhill, and his ability to do it from either isolation or the pick-and-roll is deadly. Look at some of these clips of LaVine getting to the rim.

The burst and first step in some of these clips are just blazing, especially in that last clip against Dejounte Murray. Bigs just have to hate seeing LaVine coming downhill at him. He can just speed by for a layup as he did versus James Wiseman and Onyeka Okongwu, or he can go to a beautiful eurostep as he did versus Meyers Leonard.

LaVine scored 0.93 points per possession as the pick-and-roller ball-handler last season, placing him in the 93rd percentile. This, too, is because of his talent as a scorer. He puts pressure on defenses with his all-around ability to score. He can kill drop coverage because – as mentioned before – he is a force going downhill, and he can also flow into the mid-range pull-up.

According to BBall-Index’s player talent grades, LaVine’s mid-range pull-up talent was in the 86th percentile among guards and wings with over 750 minutes.

Of course, he can do it at the third level, too. His pull-up ability stretches back to the three-point line, where BBall-Index’s pull-up three-point talent places him in the 92nd percentile with the same filters as before. His pull-up three doesn’t just come out of the pick-and-roll either, as he has the ability to create his own shot from beyond the arc without a screener with his step-backs, side-steps, and ability to create space off of the dribble. Take a look at some of this scoring versatility:

That stepback is definitely his go-to, whether he’s coming off of a screen, snaking a screen, or just in isolation. He most certainly has one of the best step-backs in the league.

A great part about LaVine’s offense is that he doesn’t need the ball to be effective. LaVine ran off of 1.4 off-ball screens per game, more than 84% of the league, and that was for a Bulls team that didn’t feature a ton of off-ball movement. He shot 41.6% on catch-and-shoot 3s, too, indicating he has a clear ability to be effective without the ball in his hands. He’s comfortable attacking closeouts with his deep offensive bag, but with only one other initiator on the Bulls in DeMar DeRozan, he isn’t put into that situation too often.

Note his placement in this graph (approximately dead center), which mainly serves to show his volume of coming off of screens:

In addition, LaVine remains one of the league’s most transition scorers, using his speed, athleticism, handle, and finishing to get to the rim. If the Bulls got a steal, the ball would almost always find LaVine’s hands, and he was out and running. He’s also capable of grabbing a rebound and going, becoming something of a one-man fastbreak. This adds further value to his scoring ability.

Here are some advanced offensive metrics just to demonstrate LaVine’s impact as an offensive player.

  • O-DRIP: +3.6 (97th percentile)
  • O-EPM: +2.6 (93rd)
  • O-DPM: +1.9 (93rd)
  • O-RAPTOR: +2.3 (91st)
  • O-LEBRON: +1.4 (91st)

Ultimately, these metrics view LaVine as somewhere between the 19th and 48th best offensive player over the course of last season. If taking the average of his placement of each metric, you get about the 37th-best offensive player in the league. Personally, I’d weigh his rank closer to about 30th. Again, what holds him back from the league’s best offensive players and top-20 territory is his playmaking limitations.

In terms of being simply a scorer, LaVine probably hovers around the 20th to 25th best in the league. This may sound somewhat low, but think about it: there are a lot of special scorers in this league. Rather than be a tier-one scorer, LaVine is more of a tier-two guy. Guess what: that’s okay and completely fine. The 20th-25th best scorer is still an absolute bucket who can score at will.

Here’s a cool stat that honestly doesn’t mean too much, courtesy of Cleaning the Glass. Here are the players who scored at least 24 points per game, had at least a 60 TS%, and were assisted on 43% or less of their made field goals: Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Donovan Mitchell, and Zach LaVine. Elite territory, certainly.

Of course, with the various trade rumors surrounding LaVine, it’s important to address those.