A Tale of Two Signings: Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker
Herald & Review
Four games into the season, and there have been positive and negative takeaways for the Chicago Bulls’ two big offseason signings. Jabari Parker and Zach LaVine are both adjusting to their new roles in different ways.
LaVine has shown he is the player the Bulls were expecting when they traded for him in the package that sent Jimmy Butler to Minnesota. Parker, however, hasn’t sold his skillset to coach Fred Hoiberg, who in a surprising storyline to begin the season has Parker coming off the bench. The Bulls season is only four games in but the early returns on the club’s new stars couldn’t be any more different.
When the Bulls traded All-Star Jimmy Butler for Kris Dunn, a 7th overall pick (which became Lauri Markkanen), and Zach LaVine, the pulse around the league was that the Bulls got fleeced. Fast forward a year and the NBA is on notice that the Bulls saw something most teams didn’t.
Through the first four games of the season, LaVine is playing out of his mind. He’s averaging 32.3 PPG, shooting 57.1% from the field and hitting the long ball at a 37.4% clip. LaVine is only the second Bulls player in history to start the season with four straight 30 point games. He joins Michael Jordan as the only other Bulls player to accomplish that feat. This is an excellent sign for LaVine, the Bulls, and their fans, as the fifth-year guard seems to have fully recovered from his 2016 ACL injury.
LaVine is still a spectacular talent with huge offensive upside. The former two-time NBA Slam Dunk Contest winner is again exploding to the rim with a quick first step, acrobatic aerial moves and has already a clutch moment to add to his historic start of the season for the Bulls.
Trailing by three Saturday night during the Bulls’ home opener against the Pistons, LaVine with 24.6 seconds drilled a three to tie the game. Zach ran to bench as the roaring crowd rained down cheers. LaVIne had his “I’m back” moment, only for it to be foiled the next play.
A Chicago defensive breakdown lead to an uncontested game winning layup by Pistons guard Ish Smith. Still, LaVine ended the night with 33 points in 36 minutes, going 12/21 from the floor, along with three rebounds and three assists.
LaVine followed up his second game of the season by hitting his first seven shots against the Dallas Mavericks Monday night. He was scoring from all over the court. Fade-away jumpers, rim rocking dunks, step back threes, LaVine even went 7/8 from the charity stripe. He ended the night 34 points in 37 minutes, two assists and 3 rebounds. Wednesday night he capped off a slow first half start by dropping 32 points along with the go ahead free throws with .5 seconds left in the game. At the end of the game he went to miss his second free throw on purpose to let time expire, even that shot in which he flicked at the front of the rim went in. He could do no wrong, even when he wanted too. That carried over to the Bulls first win of the season.
What has been the most impressive aspect of LaVine’s game this year has been his scoring efficiency. LaVine is shooting over 57% from the floor, against the Mavericks he went 11/15 from the field. He cooled off a bit versus the Hornets going 10/22 but his shot selection has not been questioning. The UCLA product is playing with the confidence that every shot he puts up will go in, and that couldn’t be a better sign for the Bulls.
LaVine is not only showing his climb to possible All-Star status, he is making an argument that he is the Bulls’ best player. With Lauri Markkanen still recovering from an elbow injury and now Kris Dunn who is expected to miss the next 4-6 weeks with an MCL sprain, LaVine’s hot start will have to continue with another starter out of the lineup from injury. Something that LaVine has showed he can shoulder.
Parker was initially projected to be a starter for the Bulls. Playing alongside Markkanen, the two would combo in size and athleticism that would cause mismatches for opponents on a nightly basis. That was the thought, but we live in a results-based world and Parker has not played his worth yet.
Fred Hoiberg showed his stones when he inserted Bobby Portis into the lineup over Parker the third preseason game. He has stuck with this decision so far to begin the start of the season.
Parker--a former number two pick in the draft--has gotten the reputation of being able to score from anywhere on the floor and quickly. This was on full display Monday night against the Mavericks, as Parker dropped 16 points in the first half and finished the night with 20. While Parker’s shooting has improved through each of the Bulls first three games, there are some obvious holes in his game that make him a liability to play starter minutes, some of them appeared again Wednesday against the Hornets.
His defensive has been inexcusably bad. His mediocre lateral quickness prevents him from staying in front of his defender on a consistent basis. Heavy footed and slow to recover from picks, the NBA’s popular switch defense schemes have given Parker problems, not just this year but in past seasons as well.
When the Bulls lost to the Pistons on Saturday night, Parker joined LaVine in a failed defensive switch that led to a game winning lay-up with 5.4 seconds left in regulation. Parker currently doesn’t have the chops to be an effective closer.
There is upside to playing Parker in a reserve player role for the Bulls, however. Coming off the bench and playing in the second unit usually will mean he will be facing second string bigs. This is something that Parker has shown can be a strength in his game. Stretching the defense with his scoring, Parker should be able to get off any shot he wants.
I look at Parker as the poor man’s Carmelo Anthony. He demands the ball at a high volume, plays little no defense and can shoot himself in or out of a game.
Parker has taken to his new role very well, and hasn’t yet caused any locker-room drama. Though he was expected to start when signed, he has the maturity to adjust to a team’s needs. This is something I applaud and can say he has done so far in a professional manner. Many players with that type hype and guaranteed money ($20 million per) would have become a negative distraction.
With the news of the Dunn injury and the Bulls starting off 0-4 to begin the season, this may be Parker’s time to take a run at becoming a starter. Portis has thus far been the superior option at power forward for Chicago, but he hasn’t done anything to guarantee that job. More playing time might be on the way for Parker as Portis went down with a knee injury Wednesday night and will miss 4-6 weeks. If Parker can improve his streaky scoring and rebounding, he just may crack the starting line up again. However, the longer the season he stays in a reserved role only will solidify his place on the roster as a reserve.
Only being a year removed from back to back ACL injuries, Parker still can get better. He won’t turn 24 until March, and he has time to start making positive changes in his game. His absence on the defensive side of the floor can’t last if he’s to earn a starting role. The Portis injury could be the that turning point.
Both LaVine and Parker have been severely lacking on the defensive end. They both however did look better against the Hornets. In the upcoming weeks, we should get a better idea of who these two players will become. LaVine is showing that he can lead a team but will only be able to do so much on a bad Bulls team. There is a lot to like about these two, but with lofty expectations prior to the season, the two couldn’t have started off in more opposite directions.
The Bulls next game is Friday night, October 26th against the 2-3 Charlotte Hornets.