Zach LaVine and newly-extended shooting guard CJ McCollum of the Portland Trail Blazers might actually be on the same level, here’s how.
It’s safe to say, the NBA is essentially printing money these days. The Chicago Bulls might not pull in major free agents, but they are paying Otto Porter Jr. $27.25 million for 2019-20 and are on the hook for Zach LaVine for $19.5 million for the upcoming season and the following two. At this point, LaVine’s contract is modest in comparison to some.
The dollar amounts on NBA contracts have become astronomical, there’s certainly no denying that.
The latest example is Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum. Earlier this week, McCollum agreed to an extension with the Blazers for 3 years and $100 million. His new deal will kick in for the 2021-22 season, extending his current deal to 5 years and $157 million.
Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum has agreed to a three-year, $100 million contract extension — extending his current deal to five years and $157 million, his agent, Sam Goldfeder of Excel Sports, tells ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 30, 2019
For the 2021-22 season, Portland will be paying over $74 million dollars for Damian Lillard and McCollum. That’s just for those two players.
McCollum is an All-Star caliber player, maybe not quite elite. He’s not even the best player on his own team (Damian Lillard is clearly the face of the franchise) with a contract that now averages north of $30 million a season.
This winter, the former Lehigh star will earn $27.5 million or $8 million more than LaVine. The question is, is McCollum that much better than LaVine, and will LaVine eventually command the same type of salary from the Chicago Bulls?
LaVine’s production compares more favorably to McCollum than one might think
It’s easy to blow off LaVine as a one-dimensional player, which in some respects he is. Of course, so is James Harden. No, Zach LaVine is not being compared to Harden here. It’s just that both can score the basket and are below average defenders. When we hear CJ McCollum‘s name, we instantly think of the dynamic Portland backcourt duo combining Lillard and McCollum. We think of a star player coming into his own. McCollum’s shortcomings are often overlooked, LaVine’s rarely are.
LaVine often gets forgotten as one of the young, up-and-coming stars in the league, yet his 2018-19 numbers speak for themselves.
Let’s compare LaVine and McCollum’s 2018-19 season. For starters, the Bulls guard averaged 23.7 points per game to 21.0 for McCollum. PPG isn’t always the best indicator as numerous factors can affect outcomes, so let’s look at shooting percentage – LaVine shot 46.7 percent from the field to 45.9 percent for the sixth-year Blazer guard. McCollum did hold the edge on 3-point shooting, barely, shooting 37.5 percent to LaVine’s 37.4.
Zach LaVine is averaging more PPG than; Donovan Mitchell, Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan, CJ McCollum, Buddy Hield, Lou Williams, and Jimmy Butler. pic.twitter.com/diFckYbuWo
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) March 25, 2019
LaVine held the edge over his Portland counterpart in rebounds, assists and even steals per game. Not bad for a one-dimensional player, right?
McCollum and LaVine were much closer in shooting stats too
Want to compare LaVine and McCollum’s advanced statistics for last season? That might surprise you too. LaVine had a higher true shooting percentage (57.4 to 55.3), assist ratio (obviously due to not having Lillard as a backcourt mate) and player efficiency rating (PER). McCollum did post a substantially higher 0ffensive rating (115.4 to 105.8) and his defensive rating was much better as well. LaVine’s net rating was painful at -6.5 while McCollum’s was a balmy +6.5. The Bulls’ guard trailed in pace – 101.22 to 99.98 – but also had a higher usage rating at 29.8 percent to McCollum’s 24.8.
Obviously, numbers don’t always convey the whole truth of a matter, and sometimes they actually do lie. We’re really discussing two different styles of play as well. LaVine scored 45.2 percent of his points in the paint, while the majority of McCollum’s points (34.1 percent) came from beyond the arc. LaVine likes to attack the basket, while CJ prefers to hang out on the perimeter.
For Chicago, LaVine has been tasked with much more offensive facilitation than McCollum, which isn’t a criticism of either. It’s just the reality when one has been teamed up with Kris Dunn and the other Damian Lillard.
Still, LaVine’s shooting ability has been underrated, he’s not just a thrasher with no jumper. Last season wasn’t a fluke either, as the former UCLA Bruin has a career shooting percentage of 44.6, compared to 45.5 for the Trail Blazer. McCollum’s 40.3 career 3-point percentage tops LaVine’s 37.3 percent but shows that the Chicago Bull isn’t just a high-flying dunk artist.
LaVine’s value to the Chicago Bulls has been understated
We know the criticism LaVine has faced throughout his career: defensive lapses, holding onto the ball too much (45.2 percent of LaVine’s touches lasted between 2-6 seconds, while for the same span McCollum held the ball for 41.4 percent).
Numbers don’t always tell the story, and they might not always prove reality. However, Chicago Bulls fans may need to face a pleasant truth – Zach LaVine might actually be better than they’ve given him credit for. In this era of huge contracts, the Bulls are getting high production at a bargain cost.
In a few years, however, the Bulls’ front office may have to start writing much bigger checks if they want to keep their young shooting guard happy.