DAR Sports: The Maturation Of Zach Lavine

By Jeff Axel

The 2014 NBA draft was one of the more anticipated draft classes in recent memory, as I spoke about in the Randle article. With a number of names with potential making the class seem stacked, the Minnesota Timberwolves selected Zach Lavine with the 14th pick. In a moment that went viral, the then 19 year old was caught on camera saying “fuck me” to himself. To some people it came off as ungrateful, but Lavine clearly had the ability to foreshadow the mediocrity that was on the horizon. His rookie season was solid as he averaged at 10.1 PPG and 3.6 APG despite the lackluster success of the 2014-2015 Timberwolves. That 16 win Wolves team also had rookie Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammed, Kevin Martin, Mo Williams and Corey Brewer who shared the backcourt duties with Lavine so he couldn’t fully showcase what he could do. Lavine’s second season came with a more clear and defined role and he improved his play. As this role would become defined, another obstacle came his way, this time through first overall pick Karl Anthony Towns, who relegated Lavine to the third option offensively. Zach still averaged 14.0 PPG and 3.1 APG on 45% from the field and 39% from 3 in 28 minutes per game mainly coming off the bench.  He only started 33 games for the 29 win Timberwolves that season. It would spark a debate on social media between who should be getting more shots between Lavine and Wiggins.

His 3rd season was when you saw the All Star potential, as he got an uptick in minutes and produced heavily, averaging 18.9 PPG on 46% and 39% from three. Lavine was excelling in the 3rd option role finding his rhythm, then tragedy struck. After 47 games in the season, he tore his ACL ending a quality year for him. Lavine was starting to change his fortunes that season, especially considering his biggest success up until that point were the 2015 and 2016 Dunk Contests that he would win. A blessing in disguise happened during the 2017 NBA draft when a disgruntled Jimmy Butler forced a trade out of Chicago. The Bulls viewed Lavine as a player who could thrive more offensively if given more opportunity and traded for a package included Lauri Markannen and Kris Dunn with Lavine being the highlight. They believed in him so much that they traded for him regardless, knowing that he wasn't going to come back until mid season from the injury. 

In his first season in a Bulls uniform in 2017-18, Lavine was rusty trying to recover and find his rhythm after being out a year due to the ACL. He averaged 16.7 PPG in 27 minutes per game while playing in 24 games. Then 2018-19 happened and despite some mediocre coaching from Jim Boylen and inconsistent roster moves, Lavine finally showed his potential as a number 1 option. Fully healthy for the first time in 2 seasons, Lavine improved his numbers to 23.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG and 4.5 APG. Then he follows that season with an ever better one in 2019-20 averaging 25.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, and 1.5 SPG. I know some people reading this article are going to say “somebody has to score the points” or “his team has a losing record who cares”, but Lavine is proving himself. Lavine has been progressing for years and his stats aren’t empty calories. He’s even taken his play to another level despite inconsistent teammates.

This season he finally has a competent coach in Billy Donovan. The Bulls haven’t been on a roster carousel like his teams in years past. Some guys are finally starting to buy into their roles this season. Lavine is having a career year so far averaging 26.9 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 5.2 APG on 51/41/88 splits. It’s been fun watching Lavine start his career off from an athletic 3rd option with a quick first step, to one of the league leading scorers flirting with a 50/40/90 statline. Zach Lavine isn’t just one of the best dunkers of the last 5 years, he’s trying tomake a mark as one of the best shooting guards in the league. If the Bulls can grab aplayoff appearance this season, hopefully Lavine can get the credit he deserves.



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