Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine on Bulls' momentum: ‘I can be efficient in any offense'

Guard returns from 17-game absence with efficient, engaged effort to help secure victory

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

In Zach LaVine’s past late Friday night was a Chicago Bulls victory and a box score with his name in it for the first time since Nov. 28.

In his future?

“I’m going to sleep so well, y’all don’t understand,” LaVine said with a laugh. “I had a couple rebounds where I could’ve pushed the ball on the break and I was just looking for DeMar (DeRozan) and Coby (White). Like, ‘I’m just going to the corner and catch my breath and get a break.’ I’ll get my wind over the next couple games.”

With LaVine falling just five seconds shy of his 30-minute limit in his first action after missing 17 games with right foot inflammation, finding his wind is just one of the many things on his to-do list.

Like Nikola Vučević, who also returned on a minutes restriction in his first action after missing five games with a strained groin, LaVine must prove he can help continue the positive momentum that began with the 10-7 stretch in his absence.

Friday night was successful in that department. Not only did LaVine finish plus-four with 15 points, five rebounds and four assists on 6-for-11 shooting, he was engaged on the defensive end and almost overpassing to begin.

“It’s an unselfish group that wants to play for each other. I thought it was like we almost didn’t want to step on everybody’s toes. We weren’t playing aggressive enough. We did a better job in the second half,” coach Billy Donovan said. “Once we started playing with good pace, it’s a lot easier to play that way.

“Zach can play any style of play. He’s a great transition player. Obviously, he can shoot it. He’s an elite scorer. He’ll have opportunities and I thought he had opportunities he could’ve shot the ball a little more. But I think he’s trying to make sure the ball is moving and he’s making quick decisions and getting off it. For a first game back, being out as long as he’s been out and having to come off the bench and the minutes being different than he’s accustomed to, he played well. And same thing for Vooch.”

Indeed, Vučević posted 11 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 24:55 and would’ve scored more if his 3-point shot was dropping. He missed four of five.

“I felt good. I didn’t miss that much time. Coming off the bench was different,” Vučević said. “But I thought we played with a lot of energy offensively. We were very decisive and sharing the ball. When we do that, we can be a very good offensive team.”

Unfortunately, the Bulls weren’t last season, posting the 24th-ranked offense despite featuring three efficient scorers in Vučević, LaVine and DeMar DeRozan. That’s why the focus from training camp on has been on quick decision-making and balanced scoring, with ball and player movement instead of isolation.

Through a dismal 5-14 start to this season, that offensive philosophy didn’t take hold. During this now 11-7 stretch in which LaVine has played one game, it’s more apparent. The Bulls posted 29 assists on 54.1 percent shooting with five players in double figures.

“He was decisive in everything he did, which was good. I think there’s more to Zach’s game than him just being this scorer. He can score. But he’s unselfish. He’ll make the right pass. Guys are open, he’s going to move it,” Donovan said. “When we do it decisively, it allows the ball to move and us to play faster.”

Added Vučević: “Zach’s ability to shoot and drive and get out in transition opens up so much for us. It gives us a totally different outlook offensively.”

LaVine admitted his focus in his first game back was to focus on the defensive end and to play “within the way we’ve been playing.” At least for one game, mission accomplished.

“Couple times guys told me to shoot it. Obviously, they know what I do. But I just wanted to feel my way into the game,” LaVine said. “I missed more than a month. I can pick up offensively when I need to, but I just wanted to get up and down the court a couple times.”

LaVine’s usage rate was the lowest it has been in several seasons even before his injury. The Bulls’ slow start offensively was as much about multiple players shooting below their career percentages as it was trying to acclimate to a new philosophy.

“This is pretty much what we came into the season doing and were trying to work on,” LaVine said. “Every game is different. Some games, you have to insert yourself a little bit more or less. I think I can be efficient in any offense.”

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