Zach LaVine, rest of big three sit out Bulls’ preseason loss to Nuggets

By Chicago 5 Min Read

Transparency hasn’t always been a strength of this Bulls regime.

Case in point: At this time last season, there was absolutely no indication of a load-management program for guard Zach LaVine’s knee that would keep him out of the regular-season opener against the Heat, as well as out of several early back-to-backs.

Not a peep.

Maybe things are changing.

Coach Billy Donovan usually keeps starting lineups close to his vest, but he was fairly certain Saturday that his big three of LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic wouldn’t play in the Bulls’ preseason game Sunday in Denver.

Sure enough, when the starting lineup was unveiled before the Bulls’ 116-102 loss, it turned out Donovan wasn’t lying.

A reason for concern? Not in the slightest.

If anything, except for the continuing issue with Lonzo Ball’s left knee, this might be the healthiest the Bulls have been since executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas assembled the core of this roster in 2021.

And LaVine is loving it.

‘‘I’m in shape; I’m not rehabbing, so you’re not second-guessing things,’’ LaVine said of his training camp and preseason. ‘‘I feel like myself, like I did from December on. I had a full offseason. It’s always good to come into camp in shape and not have any extra ailments.’’

The numbers back LaVine’s claim.

From the start of last season through Dec. 2, LaVine played in 18 games and averaged 20.9 points on 40.9% shooting from the field (35.2% from three-point range). The number that stood out, however, was his minus-2.8 plus/minus per game.

In the 59 games he played after Dec. 2, LaVine averaged 26 points on 50.7% shooting from the field (38.3% from three-point range). He also upped his rebounding to 4.5 boards per game. And that plus/minus number? How about a plus-1.2?

So call Sunday more of an earned rest day.

Not that LaVine wants very many of those. Donovan has a new-look offense that’s still a work in progress, and the focus of it is off-the-ball actions, as well as more aggressiveness from three-point range. Some real positives came out of the Bulls’ first two preseason games, but LaVine knows things still need a lot of work.

‘‘We’re still trying to play and figure out where we’re going to get our shots within the offense,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘We’re going to just mess around with lineups [throughout this preseason], see what works, what doesn’t.’’

With LaVine, DeRozan and Vucevic sitting against the Nuggets, Donovan rolled out a starting five of Coby White, Ayo Dosunmu, Torrey Craig, Patrick Williams and Andre Drummond. White and Williams each scored 20 points, and Drummond grabbed 10 rebounds.

White and Williams also started the first two preseason games, and it appears as though the overhyped point-guard battle among White, Dosunmu and Jevon Carter was over before it really started.

All indications are that White will be the starter on opening night Oct. 25 against the Thunder.

The Bulls will finish the preseason with home games against the Raptors and Timberwolves, and LaVine said he planned on playing in both games. In his opinion, while there have been some positive signs with Donovan’s offense, there’s still a lot to be ironed out.

‘‘I don’t think we have a very prolific shooting group, but if we can get a lot of good looks, if we can hit the paint and get corner threes, swing-swing threes, I think it opens it up for guys like me, DeMar and Vooch to where now we have easier looks, easier shots, because [the defense] is not as compressed in the lane,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘[Made baskets] will come with more and more reps we have.’’

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