Zach LaVine-James Harden matchup will showcase differing styles of being the 1st scoring option

Michael Walton
NBC Sports Chicago

The Bulls made some key changes entering the 20129-20 season, adding vital talent to both the coaching staff and the roster. With a new-look team trying to make a big improvement following a lackluster, 22-win season, it was expected that Bulls star Zach LaVine would be asked to play somewhat differently, specifically with the addition of former Brooklyn Nets assistant coach Chris Fleming.

LaVine was asked to change his game in some aspects and through nine games, the results have been encouraging, but of course, with room for improvement.

In the 2018-19 season, LaVine averaged 0.96 points per possession, shooting 41.3% on 2.4 field goal attempts per game on isolation plays.

While he was nowhere near the level of isolation-master or free throw magnet that James Harden was, who comes to town on Saturday night, LaVine was in the 72nd percentile in isolation scoring, making him one of the better iso scorers in the league and certainly on the Bulls. In 2018-19, LaVine also attempted six free throw attempts per game, knocking them down at an 83.2% rate.

That has changed in a big way over the first nine games of the 2019-20 season.

LaVine's free throw average has dropped to 4.1 attempts per game. And though he has not played less out of isolation plays-LaVine is still averaging 2.4 field goal attempts per game in isos-his field goal percentage in isolation plays has dropped to a paltry 27.3%.

It's early enough in the season to expect that figure to go up considerably, but the fact that he has been a quality offensive player without feasting on isos is encouraging.

LaVine's offensive game has strayed away from what Harden's is-i.e., lots of pick-and-rolls and isolations-and more towards that of an on and off-ball scorer, again, with positive results so far.

Through nine games LaVine's offensive rating (points per 100 possessions via is 107.0, up from 105.8 last season, and a big reason for that is his shot distribution.


As visible through the above shot chart, this season LaVine is eschewing the midrange in favor of a more aggressive approach from the 3-point line and a continued commitment to getting to the rim. Through nine games this season, LaVine is shooting 1.1 midrange shots per game after taking 3.7 midrange field goal attempts per game last season.

What that shot chart doesn't show is how LaVine is getting his shots.

LaVine used pick-and-rolls much more frequently last season, scoring 0.90 points per possession on 9.6 pick-and-roll possessions per game. This season he has scored 0.98 points per possession but only on 6.3 pick-and-roll possessions per game.

His new bread-and-butter plays outside of transition offense and (slightly less) pick-and-rolls include more spot-up 3-pointers, catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, and handoffs. What all this means is that LaVne is truly trying to keep the rock moving, adhering to Boylen's "0.5 seconds" rule.

Among the most significant figures, LaVine is shooting 42.9% this season on 3.1 pull up 3-point attempts per game, 33.3% on 3.0 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts per game-up from 1.7 catch and shoot 3-point attempts per game last season-and his average seconds per touch is down from 4.57 seconds last season to 3.62 seconds so far in 2019-20.

LaVine's slightly altered style of play - no doubt heavily influenced by Fleming, Boylen and the rest of the Bulls organization - has opened up the door for Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr., Wendell Carter Jr, Tomas Satoransky and Coby White to have role significant roles in the offense.

This has had mixed results so far, as evidenced by the Bulls' currently 23rd ranked offense, but things have still been a step up from last year's 29th ranked offense.

Small sample size alert always applies this early in the regular season but things are looking up for Zach LaVine.

While LaVine's defense still has a long way to go, he is posting a career-high 1.8 steals per 100 possessions and again, through nine games, his new-look shot distribution has lead to the second-best offensive rating (107.0) of his career.

Saturday night's Bulls-Rockets game will be a great showcase for Bulls fans to see LaVine's new-look game, featuring an efficient off-ball offense against the contrasting style of Harden, who will force the Bulls to defend upwards of 11 isolations.

If LaVine can help the Bulls get off to another fast start - Chicago scored 33 points in the first quarter of Wednesday's win over the Hawks - then they have a great shot at beating a defense-averse Rockets team.

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Zach LaVine-James Harden matchup will showcase differing styles of being the 1st scoring option originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

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