With their 116-100 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Chicago Bulls’ uneven 2021-22 season has come to an end. Chicago’s abrupt elimination at the hands of their division rivals transitions them into an offseason where the team has some roster decisions to make, particularly regarding star guard Zach LaVine.
Coming off his second consecutive All-Star season and his first postseason appearance, LaVine is set to become a free agent this summer and, in a prime example of “why can’t we have nice things?”, some folks have argued that LaVine isn’t worth the potential max contract that it would take to retain (or attain for the other 29 teams) his services.
Of course, there are also plenty of Bulls fans who have dismissed that notion, and rightfully so.
The Chicago Bulls should absolutely give Zach LaVine a max contract extension
We already know that LaVine’s traditional stats support this — in 67 games, he averaged 24.4 points per game with a 60.5 true shooting percentage — but many of the advanced stats view him favorably, too.
This is particularly true on offense, where he’s graded as either an elite (96th percentile in offensive Estimated Plus/Minus, 94th percentile in offensive LEBRON, 96th percentile in offensive Box Plus/Minus) or very good (top 35 in offensive RAPTOR) contributor.
As a scorer, LaVine offers immense value with the ball in his hands (96th percentile in pick-and-roll points per possession, 97th percentile in isolation PPP) and as a floor spacer (95th percentile in spot-up PPP).
It’s this malleability that made this pairing with fellow All-Star/fringe MVP contender DeMar DeRozan so potent (Chicago averaged 113.6 points per 100 possessions with those two on the floor).
Seeing him breakout some cool in-game dunks in the open court is a nice perk, too.
Players like that who can generate gravity off of their scoring (95th percentile in box creation) — making life easier for his teammates on offense — and thrive off of someone else’s aren’t easy to find, let alone replace if they’re let go.
And, as we saw play out when the Bulls traded away Jimmy Butler (the very trade that brought LaVine to the Bulls), even losing a player that you perceive to only be a second-tier star could set the franchise back for years.
Look, we know that LaVine is far from a flawless player. Despite the gravity he generates, he still struggles to make some advanced reads as a playmaker and he’s still more of a liability than a benefit on defense. And it’s understandable to yearn for something better.
But if the best argument against trying to keep him is that he isn’t, say, Giannis Antetokounmpo or LeBron James, then a lot of players are going to fall short of those standards, and LaVine is closer to the likes of James and Antetokounmpo than he is the average NBA player.
Of course, whether or not LaVine wants to come back to Chicago will depend on LaVine. But if a return to the Bulls is what the talented guard wants, then the team should make it their top priority to oblige him.