4 stats that explain Zach LaVine’s return to All-Star form

Zach LaVine tried to tell us.

As the two-time All-Star searched for consistent footing in the opening weeks of the 2022-23 season, he repeatedly called for patience, assuring reporters — and, by extension, Bulls fans — that he would look himself again with time as he acclimated to live action following offseason knee surgery.

Months later, LaVine’s assurances have proven true. In 44 games since the start of December, LaVine is averaging 26.1 points per game while shooting 50.3% from the field, 39.6% from 3-point range and 84.9% from the free-throw line — by the numbers approaching the efficiency of his first All-Star season in 2020-21.

As the Bulls’ season teeters on the precipice, if not crumbles altogether, his resurgence is a positive to take away, regardless of what the future holds.

Here are the numbers behind it.

67.6: Rim Field Goal Percentage Since Dec. 1

Remember back in October and November, when LaVine’s extended recovery led to concern about his explosiveness around the basket?

He has quieted that by returning to form as an at-the-rim finisher.

In 44 games since Dec. 1, LaVine is shooting 67.6% in the restricted area on 5.4 attempts per game, an accuracy rate which ranks third in the NBA among guards averaging five or more rim attempts in that span, trailing only Thunder rookie Jalen Williams (70.8%) and Celtics All-Star Jaylen Brown (69.7%).

As always with LaVine, it is not just the high-flying dunks buoying that number. More and more, he is displaying the elevation through, around and above contact that makes him one of the game’s elite finishers.

LaVine’s foul-drawing also reflects a player playing downhill with confidence — and the dynamism necessary to consistently gain advantages on defenders. After visiting the free-throw line 4.4 times per game in October and November, he averaged 3.9 free-throw attempts in December, seven in January, and now 7.7 between February and the first three games of March.

In all, LaVine is finishing 66 percent of his shots at the rim this season, according to Cleaning the Glass, a 68th percentile rate for his position. In each of his All-Star seasons, LaVine finished at 69th and 73rd percentile rates. So that standard has been re-established after shooting 60 percent at the rim in the first two months (37th percentile).

63.1: True Shooting Percentage Since Dec. 1

While LaVine’s dip in at-the-rim finishing was particularly noticeable, he also shot below his typical standards from outside of the paint to start the season. Through Dec. 1, LaVine was shooting 33.3 percent from midrange and 34.8 percent from 3-point range.

In the last three months and change, though, he is back to being an efficient three-level scorer. Since Dec. 1, LaVine is up to 45.9 percent from midrange and 39.6 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, contributing to a 58% effective field goal percentage and 63.1% true shooting percentage that would each hover around his career-highs for a full season.

LaVine, as any regular Bulls watcher would tell you, is arguably most devastating in catch-and-shoot situations, where he is converting 48.5 percent of three 3-point attempts per game since Dec. 1 — first in the NBA in that timeframe among players that cross that volume threshold. But he is also versatile on the move or pulling up from any distance.

Given the Bulls’ team-wide struggles juicing their 3-point volume — they rank last in the NBA in 3-point attempts (28.5) and makes (10.3) per game, a massive factor in their 24th-ranked offense — one could argue LaVine should be attempting even more 3s than his season-long average of 7.3 per contest. Particularly because only 37% of LaVine’s shot attempts this season have come from 3-point range, according to Cleaning the Glass, a 27th percentile mark for his position.

54: Games Played In A Row

LaVine began the season on a fluid injury management plan, which included missing the regular-season opener and the front end of the Bulls’ first three back-to-back sets.

Since resting for a nine-point loss in Toronto on Nov. 6, however, LaVine has appeared in 54 consecutive games, the third-longest active streak on the team behind Nikola Vučević and Patrick Williams (who each have perfect attendance in the Bulls’ 65 games).

It is easy to take availability for granted, although Bulls fans know better by now. But with 17 games left in regular season, LaVine is only seven appearances away from eclipsing last season’s total of 67, which at the time was his most since 2015-16, the campaign before he tore his ACL while with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

And, as LaVine insisted would happen during his early-season struggles, the consistent reps that have come with that durability has led to consistent production.

PPGRim FG%Midrange FG%3P%True Shooting %
Zach LaVine's Month-By-Month Production, 2022-23 Season

15: 30-point games

This may not seem significant, as LaVine posted 25 30-point games in his breakout 2020-21 campaign, then 17 last season even while battling knee soreness down the stretch.

But consider that over one-third of his 30-point games this season — six, to be exact — have come since the start of February. Eleven have come since the calendar turned to January.

Only five NBA players have more 30-point games since Feb. 1: Damian Lillard, De’Aaron Fox, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jayson Tatum. Since the start of January, LaVine is tied for ninth in the league in 30-point performances.

More signs that he has played better basketball as the season has progressed.

And, for good measure, the Bulls have a 10-5 record in LaVine’s 30-point games this season, far better than their overall win percentage of 0.446 — even in light of him scoring 42 in Sunday’s heartbreaking last-second loss to the Indiana Pacers.

That is a harrowing reminder that, regardless of LaVine’s brilliance, the Bulls are 3-8 in their last 11 games and fast slipping in the Eastern Conference standings. As one of the leaders of the team, the responsibility will fall on him to right the ship and translate his inspired individual play into wins.