Grading Zach LaVine, Bulls' Top Stars to Open 2022-23 NBA SeasonNovember 10, 2022
Grading Zach LaVine, Bulls' Top Stars to Open 2022-23 NBA Season
The Chicago Bulls don't reside in the top tier of the NBA's Eastern Conference championship contenders, but they may not be far behind.
The 6-6 record they carried into Wednesday night may not look like much, but they've thumped some good teams and managed to tread water without an injured Lonzo Ball at point guard.
Chicago's bench mob has been great, but what about its three-headed monster atop this roster? Let's put those stars under the spotlight and grade their seasons so far.
DeMar DeRozan seemed a likely regression candidate after engineering a career campaign during his age-32 season in 2021-22, and his numbers have tapered off a tad. Having said that, though, he's a remarkably effective offensive engine for this squad.
His scoring has seen the biggest slide (27.9 to 23.8), but that's mostly due to a drop in floor time and usage. His field-goal shooting is almost identical to last season (50.3 percent, was 50.4), and he's been even better at the foul line, where he averages 7.8 free throws per game on 90.3 percent shooting.
His playmaking is nearly as potent (4.3 assists, was 4.9), and he remains the master of the mid-range, averaging an NBA-best 4.7 makes per game on 52.8 percent shooting. If the Bulls need a bucket, he's still the best option to make or create one.
It hasn't been perfect. DeRozan is a non-factor from three again (4-of-17 through 12 games), and he has the worst defensive rating differential among Chicago's rotation players (minus-10.6 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com).
Still, in the areas where he's needed most, he's been pretty awesome.
Big-picture, the start to Zach LaVine's season should have raised some alarm sirens around the Windy City.
The 27-year-old already navigating around knee trouble, which isn't exactly the ideal start to the first season of his five-year, max deal. He has already missed four contests and shown zero zip around the basket, where he's shooting a career-worst 52.6 percent within three feet, per Basketball-Reference.
Narrow the lens to just this season, though, and he's mostly living up to expectations. His field-goal shooting is a little down (47.6 percent to 44), but his three-point shooting is up (38.9 to 43.3). His .127 win shares per 48 minutes are up a bit from last season and the second-most of his career.
You can't ignore the knee trouble, though, and this will become a glaring concern if it continues to sap his finishing ability from close range.
Of course, for LaVine to be less than 100 percent and still putting up 21.9 points, 4.1 assists and 3.3 three-pointers just speaks to his tremendous talent level.
If Nikola Vučević keeps going at his current clips, this will be his lowest scoring average since joining Chicago at the 2021 trade deadline.
That shouldn't bother the Bulls one bit. Not when he's also grabbing a career-best 12.3 rebounds, splashing 38.9 percent of his long-range looks and ranking 11th among centers with 3.2 assists. He's doing what a support player should, and he seems more comfortable with his place on the pecking order.
"It's just different sometimes for me still playing as a third option," the 32-year-old told reporters. "Before, when I was the main option [with the Magic], even if the ball didn't go in right away, you know I'll get my shots. Last year, I was pressing a little bit on it. This year, I'm just able to settle my role more."
His strengths get masked a bit by this roster, and his defensive limitations can be tricky to hide, too. But he deserves credit for morphing his game to try to make this work.