In 206 games with the Minnesota Timberwolves Zach LeVine transitioned from bench piece to highlight reel to one-third of a big three with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. His evolution was cut short however, by an ACL injury, sidelining him in February 2017.
Matters became worse when an injured LeVine was dealt to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for Jimmy Butler, who has since championed a renaissance up north.
LaVine’s career was on an upward trajectory in Minnesota, but his exile to Chicago, in tandem with the Bulls’ “Sell, sell, sell!” approach to its roster last season signaled yet another NBA tank job. Though he was projected to be one of Chicago’s leading scorers when he returned, uncertainty around his ability to gel with the rest of Chicago’s misfits tempered hopes at anything better than a bottom five finish in the East.
One game after his return however, and LaVine is giving Bulls fans a reason to keep faith.
Facing the playoff hopeful Detroit Pistons (the same team he tore his ACL against), LaVine was available for just 19 minutes in his first game in almost a year. But not even a minutes restriction could silence his return, as the guard chipped in 14 points on 5-for-9 from the field.
Inserted into the lineup as the Bull’s shooting guard, LaVine was free to find the stroke he honed last season in Minnesota, which helped separate him from his identity as “that dunk contest guy.” At six-foot-five, LaVine began his career running point for the Wolves only to later slot in as the two-guard, allowing him to use his slender frame to both weave through defenses and find open jumpshots.
With Kris Dunn finding his point guard flow in the Windy City of late, LaVine had the chance to ease into his game last night, like on this play, curling off screens and dashing to wing for a three.
While he might be looking for his legs after a lengthy absence, LaVine also remained a threat at the rim, weaving past Reggie Bullock and Dwight Buycks for an easy lay-in.
The tank’s treads are still rolling in Chicagoland, but LaVine’s presence is helping to fill potential potholes along the way. Rookie Lauri Markkanen and Nikola Mirotic have been bright spots for the Bulls on offense, keeping box scores against squads like the Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors respectable. 28th in the NBA in offensive rating, the Bulls have added another threat as LaVine’s inside-out game adds diversity.
At 24th on defense, the Bulls will have to wait and see where LaVine’s length plays into their rotations. Potential to matchup against scorers like DeMar DeRozan will only add to LaVine’s resume. If his game continues to make his ACL injury appear trivial, LaVine has the offense to keep his career rolling, in Chicago and beyond.