Through 21 games of the 2023 season, the Chicago Bulls are 7-14 and are on track to miss the postseason again. The blame has shifted from Zach LaVine to Billy Donovan during the young season, with some sprinkled faults to Patrick Williams amid his horrible fourth season unfolding. Over the past week, LaVine has been sidelined due to soreness, and the Bulls have shown some eye-opening things in his absence. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski also reported last Friday that there’s “no market” for the Bulls’ star guard. What has unfolded while LaVine’s been gone, and how does this bode for the future?
Coby White Is The Future
During LaVine’s absence, Coby White has been given the reins to Chicago’s offensive attack, and he’s flourished in his uptick in usage. Over the last two games, he’s averaging 27 points, 6.5 assists, and 6.5 rebounds per contest. This is while attempting over 18 shots per game, whereas, before LaVine’s injury, he was only shooting a dozen. His efficiency has also increased from the field and three-point territory, raising his overall percentage from 43% to 46% and under 40% from deep to a 50% clip over his last two games, going 12-for-24 from three-point land.
Comparing these numbers to LaVine’s first few seasons in Chicago at a similar age to White, the former Tar Heel point guard outshines LaVine on every level. Not only is he scoring more points, but he’s significantly more efficient from all scoring levels and averaging more assists and rebounds than LaVine has ever posted.
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At the same time, it may only be a two-game sample, but Bulls’ announcer Stacey King said it best during last game’s broadcast when he talked about letting the young players develop, and with more minutes comes more growth. He also emphasized the importance of the consistent increase in minutes and usage. Coby White has been a victim of sporadically being given more freedoms versus being hidden when the Bulls are fully healthy. Right now, he’s proving to be the future in Chicago.
Passing The Eye Test
Looking at box scores and stats can only take an observer so far, but by watching the product on the floor during the last two games in Chicago, one can see this is better than the Bulls have looked all year. Not only have the Bulls won back-to-back games for the first time this season, but both opponents were a combined 25-16 on the year, are in the playoff bracket of their respective conferences, and were a combined 14-4 in their last 18 before visiting the United Center. Those were two impressive showings for a Bulls team without their supposed best player, Zach LaVine. Before LaVine’s injury, the Bulls were 1-9 in their last ten, had dropped five decisions in a row, and had only won five out of 19 on the season.
It doesn’t end there with the amount of corners turned without LaVine, including the team’s offense. Before his injury, Chicago averaged under 106 points per game, good for 28th in the league. In his absence, the Bulls have averaged 122 points per game, which would sit in the top five in the NBA. While it is just a two-game sample, the signs are alarming. The team’s three-point and field goal percentages have also risen significantly without their best scorer, and their pace has also improved. There’s an evident struggle to find where LaVine’s presence enhances the current product for the Chicago Bulls.
Whether this is a flash in the pan for Coby White and company or a newfound standard in the Windy City, the buzz has returned to the Bulls’ clubhouse for the first time this season, and excitement is building again.
Does this stretch prove that LaVine should be shown the door, or is this a streak of luck that’ll fizzle out soon? How many games of a similarly improved product does the front office need to see to pull the string on the two-time All-Star guard and send him elsewhere?