PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 18: Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls dribbles the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on October 18, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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Exploring a trade for Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine would be a smart idea as the New York Knicks plan their latest offseason rebuild.

Josh Benjamin

Zach LaVine is an underrated talent.

The former UCLA Bruin has blossomed into a viable NBA guard since turning pro in 2014. Before the league suspended play in March, LaVine led the Chicago Bulls with 25.5 points per game. Despite the Bulls’ struggles, LaVine was looking more and more like a star in the Windy City.

Now, things are different. The Bulls are heading for another rebuild under new executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas. LaVine has two years and $39 million left on his contract, per Spotrac, and Chicago is looking to trade their star. According to Ian Begley of SNY, both the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets “have done background” work on the former first-round pick.

The Knicks in particular are an interesting fit for LaVine. The team has a new front office headed by former agent Leon Rose and a new philosophy. Between his hiring and new coach Tom Thibodeau’s, the Knicks are undergoing a cultural makeover.

This also means the Knicks will adjust their roster to keep up with today’s fast-paced, high-scoring NBA. As both RJ Barrett and a potential rookie point guard develop, having Zach LaVine around could prove highly beneficial.

Sneaky good talent

Compared to most star players, LaVine is kind of a late bloomer. He’s still just 25 years old, but the 2019-20 season was actually his sixth NBA season. The former four-star recruit from Seattle spent one season at UCLA before entering the 2014 NBA Draft pool. The Minnesota Timberwolves then selected LaVine with the 13th pick.

Here’s the kicker. Zach LaVine was far from an elite player in college. He only averaged 9.4 points per game and made one start at UCLA. He held his own on both sides of the court, but didn’t stand out in a faster offense compared to his teammates.

However, LaVine has been a bigger surprise than the Riders of Rohan at the Battle of Helm’s Deep. He bounced between the starting lineup and bench and averaged 10.4 points as a rookie. A year later, he vastly improved his three-point shooting despite inconsistent starts. Finally, in his third season, he averaged 18.9 points and had his coming out party as a full-time starter.

LaVine was then traded to Chicago in the Jimmy Butler trade, and the rest is history. He’s posted 23.3 points per game as a Bull and provides the scoring the new-look Knicks will need.

Does Zach LaVine fit?

On raw numbers alone, Zach LaVine fits the Knicks. His impressive scoring in Chicago aside, he has also shot 44.8% from the field and 37.3% from three-point range there. Throw in LaVine’s true shooting percentage (TS%) of 55.5% and he is not just a strong scorer, but a consistent one.

That said, he does come with some red flags. LaVine tore his left ACL in 2017 during his third year with Minnesota and was traded to the Bulls month later. He returned and the knee hasn’t been an issue, but LaVine also missed time last year with both a sprained ankle and what was described as “right leg injuries.”

On top of that, for all his scoring strengths, LaVine isn’t a particularly strong defender despite noted improvements. His career defensive box plus/minus is -1.6, and Thibodeau is very much a defensive coach. In fact, LaVine played for Thibodeau in Minnesota for a year before he was traded, so he knows this.

But on the whole, Zach LaVine has improved his defense and scoring across the board, even if he was just the best player on the lowly Bulls. The truth is the Knicks aren’t much better, and working with a coach he knows to rebuild a team could make LaVine an even bigger star in New York.

Look at it this way. Thibodeau will have Mike Woodson as an assistant, someone who centered his offense around one or two players when he coached the Knicks. If the Knicks traded for LaVine, he could easily fill that role while Barrett continues developing as a wing.

Final thoughts

The New York Knicks could really use Zach LaVine on their roster, and both Rose and general manager Scott Perry should pursue a trade. He won’t be cheap, but the Knicks have draft capital. On top of their two first-round draft picks this year, the team also owns the Dallas Mavericks’ picks for 2021 and 2023.

Most important of all, the New York Knicks’ top priority needs to be developing RJ Barrett and whichever point guard, if any, they draft in October. Fully committing to Barrett as a wing while LaVine handles the lion’s share of scoring will do wonders for his development, same for the team’s new point man.

Actually, at 6-foot-6, 200 pounds, LaVine could easily run point for the Knicks like he did for Minnesota early on. He’s not a natural point guard, but it’s not uncommon for bigger guards or players to handle the ball today. Just ask 6-foot-9 LeBron James, who currently leads the league with 10.9 assists per game. Or 6-foot-7 Luka Doncic, who ranks third with 8.8 per contest.

One way or another, the Knicks need to keep talking to the Chicago Bulls about Zach LaVine. Rebuilding through the draft is important, but the Knicks would also like to attract star players in free agency. If Rose can trade for LaVine and he succeeds playing under Thibodeau again, as he did in Minnesota, that goal becomes easier to achieve.

Zach LaVine isn’t just a great fit for the New York Knicks, but a near-perfect one. If a trade can be made, he would instantly help the Knicks move in the right direction.

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