Bulls’ Zach LaVine has explosiveness back at training camp - NBC Sports Chicago
Not that anyone needed to be reminded of who LaVine, a 27-year-old two-time All-Star, is as a player. But after a 2021-22 season that was disrupted by nagging left knee pain and an offseason that featured surgery, it appears he is back to operating at full capacity.
“The first thing that stood out to me is that he looks really strong, physically,” head coach Billy Donovans said of LaVine after the team’s Friday practice. “He’s put, to me, good size on, good strength, he looks really explosive. He looks like a different player, to me, during training camp.
“Like, last year’s training camp, he started off great. I think as the season went on obviously the knee and the thumb became an issue. But I think physically, when I think about him at the end of last season to where he is now, I think he’s got his athleticism, his bounce and his pop back.”
Rookie guard Dalen Terry noticed the latter from the team’s first practice, after which he called LaVine’s first step “impeccable.”
LaVine, for his part, says he is using camp to get back in the swing after spending most of the summer rehabilitating. But the early returns are stronger than even he was expecting.
“I feel good,” LaVine said after Saturday’s practice. “Obviously, I’m going to take training camp this year to pretty much get back into it. It’s the first time I really had to do that, because I rehabbed all summer. But I feel really good.
“Training camp has been really good for me. This is my first live action. I actually surprised myself a little bit, how I was feeling. I thought I was going to have to work my way in a little bit more. But I’ve been playing pretty good.”
He added that the strength element Donovan alluded to is a product of his emphasis on lifting and core workouts in his rehab.
“I didn’t gain a ton of weight. I’m pretty much around the same size, but probably got a little more cut up just from lifting, doing more and more core work and rehab type things,” LaVine said. “But I feel good. Body feels really strong. I’m just going to stay that way.”
Lost in the talk of LaVine’s 2021-22 is the fact that he played in more games (67) than he had in any season since 2015-16, when he appeared in all 82 as a second-year guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
But it was clear to any observer that he was not the same player after tweaking his knee in a January loss to the Golden State Warriors, which eventually required PRP and cortisone injections before All-Star weekend, sidelined him sporadically down the stretch, and necessitated offseason surgery.
In 37 games before the injury, LaVine averaged 25.6 points while shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from 3-point range; in 29 games after, he averaged 23.7 points while shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 36 percent from beyond the arc.
In the latter set of games, he compensated for a decline in 3-point efficiency and field-goal attempts by getting to the free-throw line 7 times per game, but also steeply fell off defensively from the level he established earlier in the season.
“Keep improving like I have been,” LaVine said of his defensive focus for this season. “Me being 100 percent healthy, I think I'll be able to hold my end of the stick and guard my yard.”
Now back to full strength, the hope is he will help lead the Bulls reach new heights.