Zach LaVine was not Zach LaVine at the beginning of the season.
After an offseason arthroscopic surgery on his knee, he surprisingly missed the first two games of the season. When he finally took the court, he lacked the nuclear explosion that makes him who he is.
Most obviously, it was apparent through his finishing. Through November, LaVine was shooting only 59 percent at the rim, which would have been the second worst of his career, behind only the season he returned from his ACL surgery.
Not the way you want to start the first year of a max contract.
But necessity is the mother of invention. And without his bounce, he needed to figure out ways to remain an efficient scorer at the rim.
He did, by creating what has become his signature move — a ball fake on the move or The Pinoy Step.
“It’s a good little trick,” he told CHGO.
If you’ve watched the Bulls at all this year, you’ve seen it. On what feels like every drive, LaVine takes his gather step, pump fakes before taking off to lay the ball in.
“It started in the beginning of the year, when I didn’t have my athleticism, I had to find a way to finish around the rim against big guys,” LaVine said of the move’s origin story. “So throwing fake passes, ball fakes and messing the defender’s timing up essentially.”
Think pump fake on the perimeter, but while driving to the basket. It’s something we haven’t seen much of around the league. And it makes defenders look silly.
“I just started thinking of stuff, trying to figure out missed timing,” he continued. “Kyrie does a lot of things like that with the ball. A couple of my trainers, Drew Hanlen was helping me out with ball fakes and pump fakes in the paint. Jordan Lawley, one of the other guys I work with was helping me with ball fakes and euro steps. I kinda added all three of those things together and made a move.”
Putting his own creative twist on a variety of different moves, LaVine has revolutionized his finishing game. It’s something he’s dabbled with in the past, but now it has become a fully fledged move that he whips out on the regular.
“I’ve had it a couple times in the pass but nothing to where now, I’m actually looking for it, to throw off the defenders timing or to fake a pass to the corner or something like that,” he said.
Most importantly, it works. And that bears out in the numbers. Since December 1, he’s up to 69 percent at the rim, in line with his career high.
LaVine cites his change of pace as the reason he is able to manipulates rim protectors instincts and throw off their timing to get his shot off.
“It slows you down to be able to read the defense instead of just, when you get there, jumping in the air and the defender being able to time it,” he said.
As part of the way he gets rim protectors to bite on his fakes, it has also helped him get to the free throw line. The percent of his shots on which he is drawing a shooting foul (13.8) is a career high.
Barreling through Xavier Tillman and Jaren Jackson Jr is not the recipe for success at the rim. You have to be smarter, manipulate and move the ball, and change pace in order to succeed against that kind of front court. Better to get them in the air, draw a foul and try to finish through contact.
“Depending on the shot blocker, it’s hard to get the ball up, so being able to slow down, create contact and help me get to the free throw line a lot early on [in the season] to where I can get the big guy in the air and I can get into his body or get around him,” he said.
The ball fake has also helped LaVine cut down his turnovers, something that has plagued him during his career. He would often get the ball stripped off his leg on drives, but by implementing a higher pick up, he has had success getting those shots off at the rim.
“Just keeping the ball high,” he said. “Throughout the year, you’ll get stripped on drives, it’s inevitable. Hopefully it lessens those turnovers. You get into the paint, there’s a lot of hands. So keep the ball high. If you’re able to move the ball around like I do on my layups, you know once I take off, I move the ball a lot. So when you’re on the ground, if you can move the ball before it even gets touched, it really helps out.”
The best players in the world are the best because they can create space to get their shot off. It takes creativity, imagination and ingenuity to manufacture a cheat code move like this, and the rest of the NBA is watching.
It’s a copycat league, so when other star players like Tyrese Haliburton, who spoke to JJ Redick about stealing the move from LaVine, rip him off and added it to their own game, LaVine knows that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
But that’s not stopping him from continuing to utilize it.
Even with his athleticism back to normal, LaVine incorporates his ball fake more than ever. With the combination of burst, leap, timing and ball manipulation is nearly impossible to defend.
“Now that I’m able to have everything, I’ve got a little extra tool in my arsenal,” he said.