Zach LaVine Tuesday in the Bulls 133-87 win over the Detroit Pistons scored his fewest points of the season with 10 and shot his lowest percentage with three of 10 field goals.
Bulls coach Billy Donovan said in seeing that if observers don't understand how great a player LaVine is then they just don't know basketball.
And no, it's not a there goes Billy thing.
"He is the ultimate team guy; he really is," Donovan enthused about LaVine following the game. "He tries to play the right way. He realizes there is more help around him than he has had... he just plays the right way. He's a great teammate, he's a great guy, he wants to win and do the right things. I have a lot of respect and admiration for the way he approaches it every day professionally. He's great to work with. He is as great of a guy as you can imagine being around. And a game like today speaks to me of his greatness as a player."
It's a point Donovan likes to make, but not in the usual coach speak plaudits.
LaVine did finally make an All-Star team last year, and was a part of the 2021 USA Basketball Olympic gold medal team. But mostly LaVine, even more so in Chicago, often has doubted and criticized, accused of being a selfish scorer, someone whose gaudy totals are empty calories because of the lack of team wins, selfish, someone with whom a team cannot succeed at a high level. Trade suggestions around LaVine have been floated virtually since he came to the Bulls.
But Donovan wouldn't want this Bulls team to be without him. Because Donovan says the Bulls are winning because of players like Zach LaVine.
Despite a season-low 10 points from Zach LaVine against Detroit on Tuesday, the Bulls still beat the Pistons by 46.
Sure, Donovan has had just 23 winning seasons as a top collegiate and NBA coach and already was a Coach of the Month this season, so, yeah, what would he really know?
"He can go hunt shots; he can get his shot anytime he wants to," Donovan said. "But he really is very much invested in winning and the team and wants to do things that will be sustainable for a long period of time. It's very admirable to me the way he played tonight.
"We ended up scoring 133 points," Donovan noted. "He didn't score a lot of them, but all he cares about is the team doing well and I really respect that. I think for a good portion of his career maybe there's been teams he's been on that have not been quite good enough to win. But since I've been here in Chicago that's really, really important to him and whatever he has to do to help the team win he'll do. Playing defense, blocking a shot, grabbing a rebound, he really is invested in how he can help the team. Tonight I thought the way he played, ‘You know what, everything is kind of going well offensively, we're in a really good flow and rhythm and things are going well. I'm OK with that.' As elite of a scorer he is, he is incredibly unselfish because he can shoot it every time and probably get a good look."
And LaVine mostly has looked good in the Bulls 27-11 run. He's still averaging 26.2 per game, ninth in the league (DeMar DeRozan is seventh), along with five rebounds, 4.2 assists and shooting 41 percent on threes. His overall efficiency is second on the team, barely behind DeRozan.
"There's things all these guys have to get better at," Donovan admitted. "Everybody's journey is a little bit different. In their lives, guys figure out different things at different points in time. I know people see the athleticism and the running and the jumping and the talent and the skill, but people have no idea what kind of guy he is, what kind of person he is, how unselfish he is, how important his teammates are to him, how much he wants to win. Maybe some of his stats looked like that (meaningless), but he's had to learn, too, with all the talent he's been blessed with.
DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine continue to be Top-10 in the league is individual scoring, currently sixth and ninth respectively.
"He could sit there and say," assured Donovan, "'Listen, just give me the ball and let me play.' No, he really wants to figure out, ‘How do I fit in with these guys? What can I do to make the group better? How do I get them better? How can I help Vooch? How can I help DeMar?' I think it speaks volumes to who he is. Maybe in the past with some of the teams the points could be viewed as meaningless because they didn't win. But that's not a reflection on him. I feel like being around him for a year and half right now, I've seen from the beginning he really, really wants to win; that's incredibly important to him."
Just like he's always said. Now do you believe him!