A Look at Zach LaVine’s Offense So Far

Zach LaVine shoots a short shot

Zach LaVine shoots a short shot

I thought it would be interesting to look at Zach LaVine’s strengths and weaknesses on offense so far. LaVine clearly has shortcomings in numerous areas, but he possesses some unusual talents that continue to make him an intriguing if frustrating prospect.

Below I simply look at some trends in what he’s doing offensively, how well he’s doing at those things, and what that might mean about his current status as an inconsistent rookie and what he needs to work on moving forward.

Shot Charts and Comparisons

LaVine is actually doing really well in the restricted area–especially from the right side. No surprise given that LaVine has a strong right hand and not much of a left. He’s also shooting well relative to the League from a relatively inefficient spot on the three-point line, on the far right wing. This data point does not reveal much. The bottom line is, LaVine should be driving more.


More Comparisons

Next, we can look at how Zach fares by the frequency and distance of his shots–a slightly more granular look at his hot and cold spots on the floor as compared to league averages.

The left panel of the graph below shows LaVine’s shot frequency by distance. The right panel shows his field goal percentage by distance. The red line is LaVine; the blue line is the rest of the League, and the grey line is other guards.



What we see here is that more of Zach’s shot attempts are dunks than the average guy or guard in the League. That makes sense because he has mad hops.

However, once we get to about 3-4 feet from the hoop, we see Zach is shooting less there than other NBAers, and other guards specifically. This is a problem because Lavine shoots better than League average (and Guard average) from between 3-8 feet, otherwise known as the point guard floater and body hunter zone. The fact that Lavine shoots from this distance significantly better than his peers–10-15 percentage points–is something to think about. It would be nice if he managed to get his self more of these shots. But he tends not to.

Lavine’s shooting is horrendous in the mid-range, from 10-14 feet, and then it’s slightly under mediocre until you get well outside the three-point arc, which are really bad shots and last second buzzer beaters.

What does this analysis tell us?

At few things:

Zach LaVine still shows some offensive upside. He is pretty good when he gets relatively close to the hoop. He can finish. The Wolves haven’t had many point guards since Steph Marbury who could do that.

Confirmed: Zach LaVine’s current offensive repertoire is incredibly inefficient: We’re not even talking about his passing or defense here, which are issues on their own. We’re talking about his shooting outside the lane. Despite showing a mechanically-sound stroke, LaVine shoots really poorly outside of 10 feet. Part of this is his shot selection, which currently involves attempting a lot of difficult shots off the dribble from inopportune places and often at inopportune times. That’s how you sink beneath League average from these distances despite having better than League-average form on your jumper.

LaVine should be hunting the basket more. His instincts take over when he is leading a transition fast break. That’s when he’s at his best, and where he gets his dunks. He has become increasingly passive in half-court sets in the period since Rubio went down. His body language suggests that he’s simply trying to run the offense as it was designed, rather than exploit opportunities that the defense gives in the course of the time he has the ball in his hands. In most of his half-court sets, LaVine ends up making an uninspired pass to the wing before rotating to another position on the perimeter. Sometimes, however, he dribbles himself into a hole and ends up shooting a prayer, either on a whim or because the shot-clock is running down.

Bottom Line

All of this points to his inability to run an NBA offense at this point and time. This is unsurprising. He didn’t have that much experience running the point at UCLA. He’s truly learning at least some of this (probably much of it) for the first time. And you can see it in his play.

But I don’t think all hope should be lost. LaVine has a point guard handle, can distribute the ball when he isn’t robotically trying to initiate a set play, and has nice size against other guards. Moreover, although I don’t think LaVine views himself as a point guard as much as he does a combo guard in the manner of big, athletic, ball-dominant guys like Dwyane Wade and Brandon Roy (or perhaps fellow Bruin Russell Westbrook), I do think he believes he can be the primary ball-handler in a successful offense. He wants to run the Wolves offense and make it go, but he simply doesn’t have the experience right now to do it well. The fact that he appears interested in becoming an elite guard bodes well, I think, for his development as a Timberwolf and an NBA quality (perhaps plus!) guard.


Meanwhile, until tomorrow night’s afternoon’s tilt, here’s some LaVine dunkage to pregame to.


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