LaVine's stats keep rising, but wins don't follow for Bulls
Most of Zach LaVine's statistics improved this season, except for the one that matters most.
His points (25.5), rebounds (4.8) and steals (1.5) were career-highs. His shooting percentages and assists weren't far from career-bests.
The category that refused to budge was victories. During six seasons in the NBA, LaVine has played in 353 games and his teams have posted a 105-248 record in those games, a dismal .297 win percentage.
The Bulls went 20-40 when LaVine was on the floor this season, so technically that is a slight improvement over his career win rate.
Is the lack of team success LaVine's fault? Not really. He was drafted by a young, chronically rebuilding Timberwolves squad in 2014 and went 16-66 during his rookie season.
Then LaVine started a new rebuilding project when he was dealt to the Bulls. Management wasn't even trying to win the past two seasons and players routinely disappeared from the lineup when any sort of injury popped up.
LaVine spent one season in college, never played for a winning team in the NBA and most of his veteran teammates have been role players, not mentors who would share the floor during crunchtime.
So you can't surround LaVine with a bunch of young teammates -- like the Bulls did -- and expect him to lead a playoff push. Young guys traditionally get eaten alive in the NBA unless they have veteran help.
"The hardest thing in sports is learning how to win," LaVine said in recent an interview with HoopsHype.com. "It drives me because I've accomplished a lot of things, but that's something that I haven't accomplished."
LaVine's defense needs to improve and it did this season. His defensive rating was second-worst on the Bulls roster, but there are plenty of high-scoring guards who fared worse in defensive rating -- Bradley Beal, Trae Young, D'Angelo Russell, DeMar DeRozan, Damian Lillard, to name a few.
According to nba.com, LaVine's clutch stats were better than Miami's Jimmy Butler. LaVine might have had the most impressive single game in the NBA this season, when he scored 49 points, hit 13 of 17 3-pointers and scored the game-winning basket with less than a second remaining at Charlotte on Nov. 23.
LaVine shot 38 percent from 3-point range this season, which was more impressive than it might sound. He was the league's 14th-leading scorer and only three guys above him on the list shot better from long range -- Portland's Lillard, Brooklyn's Kyrie Irving and Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns.
The areas where LaVine could use improvement were team-wide issues. Rebounding was one of the Bulls' biggest weaknesses and LaVine's rebounding rate was middle of the road. The Bulls could use an overall infusion of physicality and with his elite athleticism, LaVine will probably always be more of a finesse-style player.
What LaVine needs most right now is a mentor, and that doesn't mean a veteran to pass along fatherly advice in the locker room. The Bulls need someone who has played for winning NBA teams to fight alongside LaVine late in games.
The Bulls made an attempt to get that sort of player when they traded for Otto Porter. Bad idea. Now with no cap space and questionable trade bait, it won't be easy for Arturas Karnisovas and the new regime to bring LaVine the help he needs.