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As last seasons training camp started, Zach Lavine was pushing himself through a grueling rehabilitation, to work himself back from an ACL tear. When the Bulls traded away All-Star Jimmy Butler and the 16th pick of the 2017 NBA draft to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Lavine, Kris Dunn and the 7th pick in the draft, it widely assumed Lavine would be the highlight of the trade for the Bulls.

Before tearing his ACL, Lavine would was putting up career-best numbers for the TWolves, averaging 19 points a game and showing his long-range ability, knocking down his triples at about a 40% clip. As well as showing off the same athleticism that propelled him to back to back dunk contest championships. He was well in his way to taking the next step in his game until he was sidelined 47 games into the season with a torn ACL.

Still with Dunn having a terrible rookie year with the Wolves under former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, and the 7th pick who became Lauri Markkanen, never playing a single NBA game yet. Lavine would surely be the prize of the trade, once he returned.

Lavine only managed to appear in 24 games last season, which is a very small sample size, given that it takes about a whole year after an ACL tear for a player to fully work their self back into playing shape. Lavine averaged 16.7 points and shot the three ball at about 35%. There were times he showed flashes of his scoring ability and other times he struggled. But that’s to be expected coming back from a significant injury.

Last season also saw Dunn show huge improvement over his rookie season, showing the potential to become a solid two-way player. As well as Markkanen’s stellar rookie season, that showed superstar potential. Lavine was no longer being looked at as the presumed face of the franchise.

So much so that some criticized the Bulls for signing him to a $78 million 4 year extension in Free Agency. Lavine has stated he wants to be the man in Chicago. While his scoring ability is pretty much unquestioned, his skills on the defensive end have left many fans concerned. Lavine was one of the Bulls worst defenders last year.

Lavine has acknowledged himself that he needed to work on his defensive, as he loses focus while defending off the ball. Lavine has worked on his defense over the summer as well as every facet of his game. The fact of the matter is Lavine was able to use this summer to work on his game rather than having to rehab his knee like last summer. He’s dropped 12 pounds from last season’s 212 pounds to his ideal playing weight of 200 pounds.

He will also be a full participant in training camp as well as the preseason games, all of which he missed last year. Lavine has shown a tireless work effort, living in the gym, he’s indicated he is serious about becoming one of the best players in the league. He’s still every bit of explosive and athletic as he was before the ACL tear.

If Lavine can improve and stay engaged on the defensive end, as well as to continue to grow on the offensive end, it’s not hard to imagine him becoming “the guy” on the Bulls. We’ll also see how he effective his leadership skills are, and how much he is willing to sacrifice, playing alongside Dunn, Markkanen and new small forward Jabari Parker, who will all need touches.

I believe Lavine will be a great cornerstone of the franchise. He has the athleticism to become a good team defender, as well as the offensive ability to be the go to scorer on any given night. We’ll get our first glimpse of what Lavine and the Bulls can do this season, on Sunday when the Bulls open their preseason at home, against the New Orleans Pelicans.

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