While a portion of the Bulls’ fandom mourns the selection of Wendell Carter Jr. at pick seven in the 2018 NBA Draft, most seem willing to give the Duke center a chance. Most, intelligently, recognize that judgment should be withheld until the rookie plays a significant number of games with Chicago. After all, he’s young, talented, and fits the Bulls’ needs.
Oddly enough, though, many Bulls fans seem to hold\ a differing opinion about Zach LaVine‘s situation. Many have voiced the opinion that they wouldn’t mind seeing LaVine in a different uniform next year. Why does the optimism differ between Carter Jr. and LaVine’s outlook?
Yes, LaVine is a four-year veteran, a restricted free agent, and has played in the red and white. That makes him different from Carter Jr. in status, but I struggle to see a major difference in future value.
In 24 games with the Bulls, LaVine did shoot an ugly 38.3% from the field and 34.1% from beyond the arc, but that means next to nothing.
Are we really going to dismiss LaVine based on 24 games? Games where the 23 year-old endured minute restrictions? Where he only played with Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn infrequently? Most importantly, games where he was seeing his first action following an ACL injury?
In my eyes, those 24 games are about as meaningful as Brian Scalabrine garbage time minutes. You simply can’t shift your opinion on LaVine on such a convoluted, small sample size, and yet throngs of Bulls fans have.
Let’s take an objective look at LaVine before he was injured. Explosive and exciting, LaVine improved each year in the league before really busting out in 2016-17. That year, through a meaningful 47 games with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he posted averages of 18.7 PPG, 3.4 RPG, and 3.0 APG on a solid 45.9% shooting clip. In terms of adjusted field goal percentage, LaVine ranked sixth among point guards and seventh among shooting guards, since he dabbled in both areas in Minnesota.
NClearly LaVine was a versatile young player on the rise with the T-Wolves, getting more lethal with his shot and more confident overall. Then, tragedy struck in the form of an ACL tear, and his progress was stonewalled.
The paramount question now is whether LaVine’s injury cut short all future growth, or was only a time-waster. As far as we know, re-tearing an ACL is highly unlikely, and most injuries culminate in a full recovery. Many fans may point to Derrick Rose as a reason to be worried, but he is a case study in fragility, not ACL issues, as he has never re-tore that initial ACL.
Therefore, since the injury itself isn’t likely to harm LaVine, only his post-injury numbers could be cause for worry, and I’ve already detailed why LaVine’s 2018 statistics should hardly be considered.
Yet Gar Forman, John Paxson and Co. still appear to be a bit shaken by LaVine’s performance this past season. In October they basically guaranteed a re-sign of the 23 year-old, but newer reports say that likelihood has seriously decreased.
Being a restricted free agent, LaVine can test the waters of free agency by receiving offer sheets but Chicago can match any sheet, thereby re-signing LaVine. They certainly have the cap space to do so, meaning if LaVine ends up going to another team, it’s solely because the Bulls just don’t think highly enough of him.
Take one scroll through LaVine’s Twitter page, and it’s clear he wants to be in Chicago. Chicago needs to reciprocate.
If the only way to reacquire LaVine is through a max contract or near-max deal (five years, around $146 million), I can understand the Bulls shaking their heads, but only if they have a clear-cut, smart way to use that money. But that’s the only scenario in which I would accept a LaVine exit, and he’s unlikely to garner that much money anyway.
Simply put, any other form of exit means the Bulls failed to recognize LaVine’s promise. In all likelihood it also means they were discouraged by his 24 games wearing red, which is an incredibly scary thought. Rebuilds center on patience with young athletes, and if the Bulls are going to make a potentially franchise-altering judgments based on 24 unrepresentative appearances, then the rebuild is destined to fail. No patience equals no success.
Like Carter Jr., LaVine is young, skilled, has impressed with other teams, and has little to no experience with the Bulls. Yes, both do have a lot to prove. But both also need time to prove it, yet only one may get that chance.
Forman and Paxson need to do their absolute best to ink LaVine, especially if his contract ask is in the range of $20 million AAV. If they don’t, they better have a damn good other player to spend their money on. One who possesses all the exciting features of LaVine, who wants to be here as much as LaVine does, and who fits Chicago’s need at shooting guard as well as LaVine. Good luck finding a guy like that, in this year’s free agency or the next.
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