Chicago Bulls swingman Zach LaVine scored a career-best 23.7 points per game last season and figures to be the focal point of his team's perimeter offense in 2019-20, but he wants more respect on the other side of the floor.
"I'm just tired of people talking s--t about my defense," LaVine said, per Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic. "I've always been a good on-ball defender. But there's no reason I can be this good offensively and not be that good on the defensive end. So I'm taking more pride in it. I'm pretty sure it'll show. I'll make sure of that."
Offensive potential has never been the issue for the UCLA product.
LaVine, 24, can jump out of the gym and is one of the most electrifying dunkers in the league. He has also connected on a solid 37.3 percent of his three-point attempts throughout his career and is someone who can take advantage of the space created by the defensive attention Lauri Markkanen attracts as a penetrator or shooter.
However, Chicago needs to improve on the defensive side if it is going to challenge for the postseason. It finished an ugly 25th in the league in defensive rating last season, per NBA.com, and its defensive rating was 112.4 when he was on the floor and 111.5 when he was off it.
LaVine's athleticism and size at 6'5" figures to bode well for his ability to stay in front of ball-handlers and challenge perimeter shooters, but the numbers paint a different story.
Opponents shot 0.6 percent better from the field, 3.5 percent better from three-point range and 9.5 percent better inside six feet than their normal averages when LaVine defended them last season, per NBA.com.
There is room for improvement, and the fact LaVine stressed he is taking pride in his defense this season is welcome news for Bulls fans.
Even slight progress on that end of the floor could land him an All-Star nod for a team hoping to contend for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.