Chicago Bulls

Summer Workout Plan: Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine needs to evolve as a passer

The Summer Workout Plan is a weekly series breaking down what certain players can do to take their game to another level this season. We've already looked at OG Anunoby, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Jamal Murray and Andrew Wiggins.

This week, we're putting Zach LaVine's game under a microscope.

There's a lot to like about Zach LaVine as a scorer moving forward, but it's as a facilitator where he needs to show some progress now that he's being paid like a star.

Other than his rookie season, when the Minnesota Timberwolves experimented with him at point guard, it's not a part of LaVine's game that we've seen much of in his NBA career. It doesn't help that he reached a new low in the 24 games he played with the Chicago Bulls last season, with the athletic guard posting a career-high in usage (29.6 percent) and tying his career-low with 3.0 assists per game.

The combination put LaVine only slightly ahead of Cleveland Cavaliers guard Jordan Clarkson in those categories, which isn't ideal for someone the Bulls just committed $80 million over the next four seasons to be their primary creator.

Zach LaVine hasn't evolved much as a passer in his NBA career
Season Usage Rate Assists Per Game Assists Per 36 Minutes
2014-15 22.4 3.6 5.2
2015-16 23.3 3.1 3.9
2016-17 21.8 3.0 2.9
2017-18 29.6 3.0 4.0

Fortunately for the Bulls, LaVine is a more capable passer than those numbers indicate. The problem is he's often too focused on creating scoring opportunities for himself, resulting in him settling for tough shots when he puts the ball on the floor. It contributed to him recording an assist on only 4.8 percent of his drives last season, a rate that put him near the bottom of the league alongside specialists like Marcus Morris, Tony Allen and Doug McDermott.

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Sure Not Now

LaVine scored on this possession, for example, but the smarter play would've been a kickout to a wide open Bobby Portis in the corner:

It's a similar case here, with LaVine choosing to settle for a contested 2-pointer instead of passing it to a wide open Lauri Markkanen on the 3-point line:

LaVine's chemistry with Markkanen in particular will be worth monitoring moving forward. Not only are they the cornerstones of the rebuilding Bulls, their strengths complement each other well on paper, with LaVine being at his best as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls and Markkanen being a 7-footer who made 36.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts as a rookie.

Fail to provide help in pick-and-pops involving the two, and LaVine has the athleticism to explode to the basket for an acrobatic finish and the shooting touch to pull-up off the dribble. Have the big man provide any sort of help, and Markkanen can make them pay by popping to the perimeter for a wide open triple.

Markkanen also proved that he can attack closeouts in his rookie season, adding a dimension to his game few players his size have.

It didn't materialize in the 421 minutes they played together last season - LaVine assisted Markkanen on a total of nine baskets - but those pick-and-pops should become Chicago's bread and butter.

If those two can get on the same page, it would go a long way in unlocking LaVine's potential as a facilitator.

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