There was something that I saw during the Chicago Bulls’ 2017-2018 season. Something that bothered me…
Unfortunately, something that was backed up by numbers.
Last season, Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine only played 17 games together. Obviously, the lack of games can be pointed to bad tanking and injuries. Even though that’s a relatively small sample size, lineups with those two on the floor posted a combined net rating of -17.9 (per NBA Stats).
Again, I’m willing to point the finger on lack of playing time together and just a lackluster team from a talent standpoint. The expectation this season was that the two would mesh better and, with a stronger starting five, would show some improved chemistry.
The Dunn-LaVine combo has actually gotten worse as they currently sit at -18.7 over 15 games (that doesn’t count the tank ‘loss’ to the Cavs on Monday).
Again, not great!
The whole locker room tension that was brewing last spring was perhaps more fact than fiction; these two can’t get on the same page. Both guys need the ball in their hands in order to be successful, that isn’t anything new. But you would think that after two off-seasons working together, they would have stronger chemistry.
Obviously, there needs to be some context with the net ratings; it doesn’t quite tell the entire story for who the other three players were on the floor. But with the talent and basketball acumen both players possess, one might think that they’d be capable of elevating their teammate’s play.
Heck, both guys should be making each other better.
Some of the problems point to how both guards play. Dunn is a great defender and a very willing passer. He also has a really solid mid-range game. But what is consistently concerning is he doesn’t try to get to the free throw line and he hardly takes any three-pointers. This season, per Basketball-Reference, Dunn is averaging 1.7 free throw attempts and 1.4 three-point attempts per game.
Completely inexcusable. I’d like to believe that it’s a product of Jim Boylen, but I don’t really know if it is. At some point, those mid-range attempts won’t fall, which will spell trouble. There’s far more value in jacking up three-point shots than settling for elbow jumpers.
LaVine is an offensive dynamo. Even if he bottoms out as a starter for the Bulls, he would be dominant as a glorified sixth man anywhere in the Association. Anytime you need buckets, he’s a guy you can turn to. The problems lie with his inability to consistently work as an off-ball player, something I’ve found confusing given that he’s one of the best athletes in the NBA.
There is also the problem that he is a sieve when it comes to his defense. On a list of 488 eligible players, LaVine ranks 396th when it comes to NBA Stats defensive rating.
So where do we go from here?
Perhaps the Chicago Bulls’ front office (or whoever’s in charge; I don’t think anyone knows) decides that the best course of action is to evaluate the situation and make a move at the trade deadline. All arrows point to Dunn being the odd man out. LaVine cashed in last summer with a four-year/$80 million deal, so moving him is pretty much not going to happen.
Should the Bulls move Dunn for assets and miss out on the “Not Tryin’ for Zion” sweepstakes, everyone will point to GarPax scouting Murray State stud point guard Ja Morant and connect the dots as a likely draft choice this summer. That may make the most sense, given his explosive skill set might translate well to the next level:
He’s certainly capable of dominating MVC competition, but how well does he perform against tougher NCAA competition? Against NBA competition?
But that might not mean much because the Chicago Bulls are still broken as long as the front office employs Gar Forman and John Paxson. Also, as long as Jim Boylen is the head coach, I don’t trust whoever they draft to develop properly. As far as I’m concerned, he’s only compounding a sizable personnel issue with two of the starters with his “tactics”.
Maybe cool stuff like this happens more and turns things around.