During his time with USA Basketball’s men’s squad in the Tokyo Olympics, Zach LaVine’s left a lot to be desired.
The Chicago Bulls guard’s scoring efficiency skyrocketed, shooting 60% from the field and 45% from 3-point range. His defensive improvements were on show as he hounds opposition ball-handlers full-court. With an average of 18.7 minutes each game, he played a vital role in the program’s 16th gold medal.
However, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, who worked as an assistant on Gregg Popovich’s staff during the Games, was most pleased by Zach LaVine’s willingness to take the position.
“I had a great time getting to know him. I think his desire to fill a position off the bench for us was tremendous “Kerr spoke about training with LaVine ahead of Friday’s game against the Bulls. “He’d just gotten it. He knew exactly what we needed.”
Kerr described the team’s needs as “pressure defensively,” “energy and agility off the bench,” and “responsible decision-making” as an additional attacking option. In six Olympic games, LaVine averaged 9.7 points but had 20 assists to 3 turnovers and was a defensive pest on the ball.
“It was such a seamless sacrifice for a guy who’s accustomed to starting his whole career, used to being a star and putting up huge numbers,” Kerr said. “I had a great time getting to know Zach and simply seeing him play and engage with the rest of the squad.”
That reflects Zach LaVine’s well-documented passion to win above everything else, which has thus far transferred to the 2021-22 season. LaVine’s scoring output has dropped slightly since his All-Star 2020-21 season, but his 25.9 points per game is still the second-highest of his career and tied for ninth in the NBA – one position behind new teammate DeMar DeRozan (26). The Bulls have an 8-3 record.
Kerr can only hope that the lessons LaVine acquired in Tokyo do not come back to haunt him against the seasoned head coach’s squad.