Zach LaVine is going to fight through the Adversity
I shoot a lot. That's how I cope. I go to the gym and shoot and watch film. - Zach LaVine
Memory often is the most forgiving editor. It can record the fun without the flaws, the favorable without the foibles. Which is why your high school date still looks so good. Zach LaVine thinks about going back, which one would expect because of his ACL tear last year. Though it's not always because of the injury. LaVine appears mentally to have cleared that hurdle. It's just that even in this short time back after the big trade for Jimmy Butler, there perhaps have been even bigger expectations for the player many regarded as the Bulls' keynoter in that transaction.
Especially from LaVine, who as the Bulls play in Atlanta Sunday afternoon understands why he's not the Zach LaVine he once knew. Though he still has difficulty accepting this course that has seen his shooting sink to career low averages, his scoring frequently in single digits with eight points in the 99-83 loss to Detroit Friday after four points in the embarrassing defeat to Boston Monday.
LaVine is usually one of the first Bulls players finished with the post game shower and interviews, but once again Friday night he lingered late, dressing slowly and perhaps repeating the word "frustrated" a half dozen times.
"Just frustrating, the consistency," LaVine told reporters, ever gracious and cordial with some lament in his tone. "You have two good games, two bad games, good game, bad game. Something like that where I'm not used to having that. It's frustrating, but you have to fight through it. You can't keep your head down too long. It's a day to day thing; get it out of your head and get on to the next one.
"Just part of the game, part of coming back," LaVine added with his intellectual side that tends to battle his emotional. "It's frustrating, but I think I've been dealing with it pretty well. You can't hold on to it because it will affect you the next one and one after that. I'm a person who is confident. Once it's over, it's over. I can go back and correct some things and look at what I did wrong or did right and get better at that. But it's not like I'm Adam Sandler. I wish I had a click remote and could go back in time and do it, but can't do that."
Apparently having been one of the seven people who saw the Sandler science fiction/time travel, comedy/drama viewer disaster, LaVine if not going back to where he was before the injury at least would love to fast forward to where he believes he will be. Which is that special player. No one among the Bulls is pushing him as hard as he's pushing himself. The Bulls need a transcendent star who leads a team into contention. LaVine would like to apply for the job.
Every team hopes for that kind of player, like James Harden, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Steph Curry, LeBron James. There's not really enough to go around, but LaVine was looking like he might take that leap before he fell into his medical maw.
"At some point I was expecting to have some good games, some bad games," LaVine said. "But I always have a (big) confidence in myself to do better regardless of what I am doing. I think I should be doing better and I am going to keep striving for that."
LaVine really is doing amazingly well, averaging 16.7 points, four rebounds and three assists this season in his 21 games back.
This was a player whom many believed might not even be playing until after the All-Star break, and then limited minutes the remainder of the season. That he was able to return in early January with double digit scoring games his first two and then three consecutive games scoring more this 20 points two weeks later seems little short of a medical miracle.
Though the ones with greatest marked on them face more intense scrutiny and demands. People demand generally because of who you have been rather than who you are.
It's not unlike with the golfer Tiger Woods. He was remarkably in contention this week in the tournament in Florida. As he made cuts and had excellent rounds earlier this year, it really was astonishing after so many surgeries and issues with his play at his age. Yet, because he accomplished so much, so much more was expected of him. Woods probably did as well, as unfair as that might be.
Not to ever compare LaVine with an historic and iconic figure like Woods, but the Bulls had to be hoping circumstances might have blessed them like when Oklahoma City handed Harden to Houston. There was urgency as there became in Minnesota. LaVine was injured and part of later. The Timberwolves were now.
But here was an amazing talent, twice a dunk champion whom many around the NBA called the most athletic player in the league. A player who at 22 years old already had a 40-point scoring games and was on the way last season to averaging more than 20 points and leading the league in minutes per game when he went down in February.
LaVine had scored in single digits once in the team's first 34 games last season. Then he had a hip injury, missed a few games and 10 games later after three more single digit scoring games, LaVine was finished in Minnesota.
LaVine was notably demanding of the Bulls about his return, working himself into such good condition there was little they could do but bring him back sooner than most expected. Coach Fred Hoiberg frequently joked how LaVine always told him he was ready the first day of training camp.
The lithe 6-5 guard has had some of those special moments this season, dunks and drives and threes. Especially that 35-point game against his former team when LaVine carried the Bulls down the stretch with the last 11 points, out dueling Butler, averaging 26.5 per game in a four-game run concluding with that game.
You have to fight through it, the adversity. You can't get too down on yourself because you have another the next day and can't let that affect that. - Zach LaVine
LaVine didn't exactly stumble out of that gate, but he's been stuck in some mud lately.
Since the All-Star break, LaVine is down slightly, averaging 16.3 points. But his shooting continues to collapse, 36.8 percent overall and 30 percent on threes. For the season, he's 39 percent and 35 percent on threes, both career lows or close. It's easily understood given his lack of playing time and conditioning all season and combined lately with the rotating rotations.
But LaVine likely expects more than anyone else, which truly is how you become one of the elite. He's averaging 11 points the last three games with one of 11 and three of 15 shooting games. He's had games shooting two of 11, two of 10 and two of nine in his return. The chemistry is uncertain and his impact has been limited. Of course, why wouldn't it be given what he's gone through? And he is leading the team in scoring and already averaging close to 30 minutes per game.
Which perhaps is the best news for the Bulls.
LaVine could be satisfied merely to return, to have several big games, a few fancy dunks and a knee injury no one even asks about. But that he seems so troubled by these weak performances arguably suggests more the kind of player you want, who won't merely countenance very good.
"It's not like we are going out there trying to mess up and have bad games," said LaVine. "But it's tough. We try to bring it on ourselves to come out and play good. We're not down on each other. We are very encouraging and sometimes games like this (week) happen and you have to go through this process of the ups and down and fight through it.
"It is frustrating," LaVine reiterated. "You want to do good all the time, you want to impress and you want to show things and all the things (you did) in the gym. You shoot and work out and pay attention to the game and go hard and sometimes it doesn't go your way and that's part of basketball sometimes. You have to fight through it, the adversity. You can't get too down on yourself because you have another the next day and can't let that affect that."
It was LaVine's 23rd birthday Saturday. He planned to celebrate it in Atlanta, where the Bulls last won a road game Jan. 20, shooting basketballs.
LaVine was asked how he gets through these times in games that distress him.
"I shoot a lot," said LaVine. "That's how I cope. I go to the gym and shoot and watch film."
There's no hurry getting there; but Zach LaVine seems like someone who will arrive.
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