Between fans, national media, and even a seafood restaurant that took a shot at him on Twitter, it seemed everyone had an opinion on Zach LaVine‘s contract last offseason.
After the Bulls matched a four-year, $78 million offer sheet from the Sacramento Kings last summer, LaVine spent an entire season proving to the naysayers that he was worth the large chunk of cap space he was earning. The contract came after LaVine had played just 24 games for the team. The contract was an investment based on very little supporting evidence that LaVine would ever fully recover from his knee injuries and become a key building block for a successful team.
The Bulls took a 78 million dollar risk on LaVine and, considering the season he had, it’s paid off. If anything, you might be able to call LaVine underpaid this past season.
LaVine took major jumps in every major statistical category this season, improving from 16 points per game to 23, from three assists to four per game, and from four rebounds per game to just under five.
To put that in perspective, compare LaVine to his Dunk Contest opponent, Aaron Gordon, who was drafted alongside him in 2014. Gordon made just over $2 million more than LaVine did this season, and was signed to a four-year, $80 million contract versus LaVine’s four-year, $78 million.
For two million more dollars, Gordon had a significantly smaller impact on his team. Gordon scored 16 points per game this season to LaVine’s 23, had one less assist per game, and shot a lower field goal percentage.
To be fair, Gordon did have more productive players on the floor with him, but even the eye test confirms that LaVine had a larger impact on the Bulls than Gordon did on the Magic. Gordon is rarely the first offensive option for his team, while LaVine is Bulls go-to guy at almost all times.
While Gordon is a supporting player on the Magic, LaVine is a centerpiece of the Bulls rebuild and their main offensive weapon going forward.
And it’s not just Gordon. There were a dozen players making more than LaVine did this past season that didn’t have anywhere near his impact; the Miami Heat’s Ryan Anderson, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Danilo Gallinari, the Charlotte Hornets’ Nicolas Batum, and the Grizzlies’ Chandler Parsons to name a few.
If the 9-point per game Batum can make $25 million from the Charlotte Hornets in a season, LaVine looks well worth the $19.5 million he made from the Bulls this season.
LaVine’s next challenge will be proving that he can be just as effective when the Bulls have a full lineup, as they will with Dunn, Markkanen, and Carter projected to be starting camp with the rest of the team. And he seems more than up to the task.
“I think I put together a really, really good year, especially for my position as a guard. But I didn’t get the accolades I want as an All-Star or All-NBA,” LaVine told the Chicago Tribune. “You’re not on a winning basketball team. And those things come from that. So I think you have to put winning first.”
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