Are We Witnessing Zach LaVine's Rise as a Star?

Zach LaVine has a had a great stretch of performances to start the season. Is he becoming the star player the Bulls are hoping for or is he just taking advantage of a lineup plagued by injury?

Chicago Bulls fans have a lot to be down on right now. Lauri Markkanen is out for two months with an elbow injury, Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis are both out for 4-6 weeks with MCL sprains, and there is no clear timetable for the return of Denzel Valentine, who is currently dealing with an ankle injury. And yet, despite all of these injuries, there has been one bright spot for the Bulls: Zach LaVine.

LaVine's Hot Streak

LaVine has made quite the impression to start the season, scoring 30+ points in the first four games, followed by games of 20, 27, and 21 points. LaVine has been very efficient in his hot start, shooting 51.9% from the field and 38.6% from three with a 22.7 PER, and a 64.1% true shooting percentage. To put that in context, Stephen Curry, widely considered one of the best shooters ever, has a career true shooting percentage of 62%.

From his 34 point game against the Dallas Mavericks, one can see everything that makes LaVine an exciting player on offense; the speed, the athleticism, the dunks, and the ability to score from inside, mid-range, and from three.

Now, to be fair, many of the shots in this highlight video were contested and possibly even ill-advised. When he is making these shots, however, I am all for it.

It was great to see LaVine get on a hot streak as he had in that Mavericks game. He looked aggressive, confident, and at times, impossible to guard. I hope he takes better shots as the season goes on but I am also happy to watch this hot streak.

Performances like these give me confidence in LaVine and his ability to become a great scorer in the league.

A Reality Check

Of course, LaVine's performance needs to be put into perspective. LaVine has yet to play with Markkanen this season and Dunn has only played in one game so far. Jabari Parker is being used as a 6th man. LaVine has been given the green light to shoot. Also, it is the very beginning of the season, players should be rested and ready to perform. There are still 76 games left. LaVine will eventually feel the fatigue of the season. Plus, he will eventually lose offensive possessions once Markkanen and Dunn return.

No sane person can expect LaVine to continue this level of production throughout the season. However, if he can maintain this to a certain degree, we may finally be seeing LaVine's emergence as a 20+ point per game scorer and number one option.

So what is his ceiling?

Possibly the best news from LaVine's performance through six games is that he hasn't lost a step from his ACL injury. Because of this, LaVine still has the potential of becoming an all-star caliber player one day.

The key term here is all-star. I have a very hard time believing that LaVine will ever become a superstar due to the deficiencies in the rest of his game, but I can see him making at least one all-star team in his career and hopefully more.

LaVine clearly possesses a strong ability to score and produces nightly highlight dunks. However, he still lacks in many other areas. He is typically just an okay rebounder for his size. He does not like to pass the ball. And the most glaring issue is his defense, which still has not improved. He has a career defensive rating of 114, according to BasketballReference.com. So far this season, his defensive rating is 120. Comparatively, players like Tony Allen and Chris Paul, both considered very good perimeter defenders, have career defensive ratings of 102 and 104, respectively.

Despite these lingering concerns, if LaVine can continue scoring at this pace for the entire season, he may have a strong case for the Most Improved award. He may never have a well-rounded game but there is no doubt that Zach LaVine is becoming a great scorer in this league.

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