Critics of Bulls guard Zach LaVine remain, but he’s a self-motivator

LaVine knows his scoring is often disparaged as empty calories by critics, especially in frequent losses. But heading into his seventh season, he’s pushing to become an elite player for his teammates and franchise, not the outsiders.

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“I hear a lot of stuff … I let a lot of things drive me,’’ the Bulls’ Zach LaVine said.

“I hear a lot of stuff … I let a lot of things drive me,’’ the Bulls’ Zach LaVine said.

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Bulls guard Zach LaVine knows what his reputation is.

He also knows that no matter what improvements he makes to his game, those perceptions might not change some people’s minds.

So where does LaVine’s drive come from entering the seventh season of his NBA career? From the man in the mirror.

‘‘I hear a lot of stuff; I let a lot of things drive me,’’ LaVine, 25, said this week, with the Bulls’ first preseason game coming Friday. ‘‘I’m one of the hardest-working guys, but if you want to be a great player, you have to lead your team to wins, and I want to do that.

‘‘I’ll take [responsibility] for that and, you know, they say empty stats or whatever it is. Look, I’m gonna go out there and play my game, regardless. I’m a team player; I’ll do whatever I’ve gotta do to win. If that’s going out there and I have to try to go get 30 [points] or defend the best player or get 10 assists or whatever it is . . . I want to win. So I want to continue to prove that.

‘‘But, you know, I know what I bring to the table. Around the league, I know where I rank at least, and I just want to keep climbing that ladder.’’’

Scoring rarely has been an issue for LaVine. His output in that category has risen every season but 2017-18, when he was returning from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and played limited minutes.

LaVine played at an All-Star caliber last season, averaging a career-high 25.5 points and shooting 38% from three-point range. But what did that get him? Twenty-two victories and another postseason sitting at home.

That’s where new coach Billy Donovan comes in. LaVine never has made the playoffs, and Donovan never has missed them as a coach.

There’s no debating LaVine is the face of the franchise for now. But unless he starts embracing winning basketball, that status is fragile.

‘‘He’s obviously very gifted and talented,’’ Donovan said of LaVine. ‘‘He’s had a challenging career. I think I’m his sixth coach he’s had since he’s been in the NBA. That’s an awful lot to deal with for a player . . . but he’s always kept a positive outlook and is very, very open-minded about things.

‘‘He cares deeply, I think, about the organization, his teammates, wanting to play well and finding ways within himself in which he can help the group win and be better.’’

An all-too-familiar storyline, however, will be getting LaVine to use his athleticism to become a better defender. If he can just be average on that side of the ball, he — and, more important, the Bulls — will benefit.

Former coach Jim Boylen’s blitzing style of defense on pick-and-rolls is gone, and Donovan thinks LaVine is an underrated on-the-ball defender. So while he wants LaVine to compete better at that end of the court, the common thread in the multiple coverages Donovan is teaching is help defense.

‘‘I think there is just a lot more built-in help,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘If there is somebody beat, they are not just on an island. The main thing we’ve been talking about in practice and coming into training camp is competitiveness and making sure you get after it and take care of your own first. So I’ve been happy with that.’’

No matter what the outsiders think.

‘‘I hear a lot of stuff; I let a lot of things drive me,’’ LaVine, 25, said this week, with the Bulls’ first preseason game coming Friday. ‘‘I’m one of the hardest-working guys, but if you want to be a great player, you have to lead your team to wins, and I want to do that.

‘‘I’ll take [responsibility] for that and, you know, they say empty stats or whatever it is. Look, I’m gonna go out there and play my game, regardless. I’m a team player; I’ll do whatever I’ve gotta do to win. If that’s going out there and I have to try to go get 30 [points] or defend the best player or get 10 assists or whatever it is . . . I want to win. So I want to continue to prove that.

‘‘But, you know, I know what I bring to the table. Around the league, I know where I rank at least, and I just want to keep climbing that ladder.’’’

Scoring rarely has been an issue for LaVine. His output in that category has risen every season but 2017-18, when he was returning from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and played limited minutes.

LaVine played at an All-Star caliber last season, averaging a career-high 25.5 points and shooting 38% from three-point range. But what did that get him? Twenty-two victories and another postseason sitting at home.

That’s where new coach Billy Donovan comes in. LaVine never has made the playoffs, and Donovan never has missed them as a coach.

There’s no debating LaVine is the face of the franchise for now. But unless he starts embracing winning basketball, that status is fragile.

‘‘He’s obviously very gifted and talented,’’ Donovan said of LaVine. ‘‘He’s had a challenging career. I think I’m his sixth coach he’s had since he’s been in the NBA. That’s an awful lot to deal with for a player . . . but he’s always kept a positive outlook and is very, very open-minded about things.

‘‘He cares deeply, I think, about the organization, his teammates, wanting to play well and finding ways within himself in which he can help the group win and be better.’’

An all-too-familiar storyline, however, will be getting LaVine to use his athleticism to become a better defender. If he can just be average on that side of the ball, he — and, more important, the Bulls — will benefit.

Former coach Jim Boylen’s blitzing style of defense on pick-and-rolls is gone, and Donovan thinks LaVine is an underrated on-the-ball defender. So while he wants LaVine to compete better at that end of the court, the common thread in the multiple coverages Donovan is teaching is help defense.

‘‘I think there is just a lot more built-in help,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘If there is somebody beat, they are not just on an island. The main thing we’ve been talking about in practice and coming into training camp is competitiveness and making sure you get after it and take care of your own first. So I’ve been happy with that.’’

No matter what the outsiders think.

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