Zach LaVine ready for Bulls debut filled with shock and ‘awe’
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Bulls forward Justin Holiday isn’t easily impressed.
He has seen hundreds of dunks and acrobatic finishes in his four-plus seasons, and though he appreciates the athleticism, most of it is old hat.
Then came Zach LaVine. Holiday said he finds himself getting caught up watching LaVine when he attacks the rim.
“Yeah, for sure,’’ Holiday said with a laugh. “You see how high that guy jumps? It puts you in awe. It’s the same for all of us, man . . . fans, players. It amazes all of us. It amazes me.
“Any guy that can jump like that . . . I consider myself a very athletic person, but he’s jumping head over heels compared to what I can do. Really what a lot of us can do.’’
So, of course, LaVine’s teammates are getting excited about his expected return in early January from surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
The Bulls’ athleticism will improve overnight with the two-time NBA dunk champ in the lineup, but thumbing his nose at gravity is just a small part of what LaVine will bring to the team.
Coach Fred Hoiberg has been drawing up sets for the 6-5 shooting guard since the summer. He has seen the emergence of rookie Lauri Markkanen and a suddenly re-energized Nikola Mirotic, so LaVine can only enhance the playbook.
Hoiberg said a lot of the offense has been going through the power forwards because of the pressure Markkanen and Mirotic put on defenses with their inside-outside games.
LaVine won’t change that completely, but he’ll be added to the mix with a lot of two-man sets involving him and Markkanen or Mirotic, especially in pick-and-roll.
“That’s going to be tough to defend,’’ point guard Kris Dunn said. “The way Lauri can shoot, Zach can shoot, attack the switch, it’s almost like pick your poison.’’
The player most affected by LaVine’s return will be Denzel Valentine, who likely will find himself back on the bench, but Dunn’s game will change, too. And he said that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
LaVine’s playmaking also allows him to be a primary ballhandler, which is Dunn’s role, but Dunn said that will allow him to play with more freedom.
“If anything, it’s going to make it easier for me because another shooter is on the floor, and I can just kick it ahead, go do what you do and let me get an assist,’’ Dunn said. “That’s an easy assist right there. And when you have two athletic people, not saying you can gamble, but getting in the passing lane makes it tough for offensive players to get open.
“I can finally go in the corner and spot up.’’
What really has Dunn excited is LaVine’s new commitment to defense. That wasn’t always the case when both were in Minnesota last season, but from the early practice results, LaVine looks like a new player in that department.
“In practices, I’m seeing that his defense has definitely improved,’’ Dunn said. “I joke on him at least every practice because now he’s starting to read the offense a little better on the defensive end, so I think his defense is going to rise, and that’s going to help.’’
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