Bulls guard Zach LaVine is getting defensive ... and it’s about time

Camp is only a week old, and the Bulls don’t play a preseason game until Tuesday, but the early takeaway is LaVine understands the importance of defense, and he has a gold medal to prove it.

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The early fall camp reviews on Zach LaVine’s defense are in.

But if anyone thinks it’s going to look like it did during the Olympics, they bought a ticket to the wrong movie.

On Team USA’s squad, there were plenty of alphas. LaVine knew that and accepted it.

He let the media know early into the Team USA process that he was there to play defense first, pick up opposing guards full-court and play with an energy on that side of the ball seldom seen in a Bulls uniform.

Most of those boxes were checked by LaVine on his way to the gold medal.

“I got a chance to spend some time with him in Vegas,’’ Bulls coach Billy Donovan said, when asked about LaVine’s defense in the Olympics. “I went out there for a couple days while they had those preseason games. I give him a lot of credit, just it speaks to him and his mentality of how important, you know he wants to win, and he said, ‘Listen, we’ve got Kevin Durant, we’ve got Damian Lillard, we’ve got all these players . . . I’m going to bring a lot of energy defensively, I’m going to pick up full-court, I’m going to really try and do that stuff.’ Because I really think he felt like, ‘OK, this is what I need to do to help the team win.’ ”

The team he’s on now is obviously very different from the one he played on this summer, but the mission statement is the same: Do what he needs to do to help the team win.

There’s a reality to that, though, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

LaVine won’t be asked to pick up opposing guards full-court. That will be on players such as Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso if Donovan choses to do that. He’s not going to be asked to lock up the opposition’s best player. That goes on Ball and Patrick Williams.

But don’t expect LaVine to kick up his feetand relax on the defensive end, either.

He showed at times in Year 1 under Donovan that he’s a willing defender to a certain degree, and then that was reiterated to him this summer.

In the several intrasquad scrimmages the Bulls had in Week 1 of camp, LaVine has proved to not only be a willing defender but is looking also like he’ll have one his best seasons on that side of the ball.

“I think the experience just being around those players and the experience he went through, competing in that environment, I think was good for him,’’ Donovan said.

Then factor in that LaVine is one of the headliners in the 2022 free-agent class, as well as having teammates like Ball and Caruso, who are very outspoken about the importance of this Bulls roster playing defense if they want to succeed. So there’s few excuses left for him to not take that side of the ball very serious.

“That’s part of being a great team is recognizing weaknesses and working on getting better at them,’’ Caruso said. “For me, I don’t have as many defenses weaknesses as some other guys, and they might have more offensive strengths than me, so it’s just that learning on each other and getting better.’’

It’s an idea that LaVine is all in on, especially looking for the first postseason appearance of his career.

“A bunch of [our] players that have played in meaningful games and gone through those battles, and that’s something they can teach me about because I haven’t done that in the NBA,’’ LaVine said. “I did it in the Olympics now and I learned to play on that stage, and it’s a totally different feeling because you’re playing for something more than yourself, you’re playing for each other, so it’s something I’m really looking forward to.’’

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