Just about everything has gone right for the Chicago Bulls this season. Through four games, they are the Eastern Conference’s last remaining undefeated 4-0 team, and much of that is thanks to the strong performance of their reigning All-Star Zach LaVine. Through four games, LaVine is averaging 25.5 points on 50 percent shooting to lead what has been the NBA‘s most surprising early-season juggernaut, but Chicago will be tested in the coming weeks as LaVine is now dealing with an injury.
LaVine has a small ligament tear in the thumb of his non-shooting left hand, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, and intends to play through the injury. It will only be a matter of pain tolerance for Chicago’s star guard, but there is no telling how the injured thumb will affect his on-court performance. This is especially important for Chicago given its brutal upcoming schedule. After four relatively easy games to start the season, the Bulls are about to embark on a stretch in which 11 of their 12 games come against 2021 playoff teams. The lone exception is a road game against Golden State.
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The Bulls will need LaVine at his best if they are going to overcome so many good teams. Fortunately, even with this injury, the Bulls have a roster capable of picking up some of his slack. DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic can both scale up their offensive usage to compensate for a compromised LaVine if necessary, and Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso have led a surprisingly strong early-season defense that has been just as important to Chicago’s success as its offense. The Bulls were very aggressive in rebuilding this roster over the past year. Now those moves are being put to the test.
Looming over them is the fact that LaVine can become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. His desire to play through the pain is admirable especially considering how underpaid he has been in recent years. The four-year, $78 million deal he inked in 2018 restricted free agency has quickly become outdated, and he has spoken publicly about his desire for respect in his next deal. LaVine will be eligible for a five-year deal worth well over $200 million from Chicago this offseason.
An injury could threaten that, but LaVine has never played in the postseason. This Bulls team is his best chance, so for now, he’s fighting through the pain so that he can hopefully help lift Chicago back into the playoffs for the first time since Jimmy Butler was dealt in 2017. Only time will tell how successful he’ll be in that endeavor.