Breaking down Zach LaVine's All-Star candidacy

LaVine has scored the third-most points of any Eastern Conference player this season
LaVine exits through the tunnel after Bulls win
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

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Zach LaVine's All-Star Game candidacy is up in the air, but the next four games could be a crucial stretch.

Now comes the difficult part for Zach LaVine's quest to play in next months' 2020 NBA All-Star Game in Chicago.

The All-Star Game starters were revealed Thursday before the weekly TNT broadcast. Fans accounted for 50 percent of the vote, while current NBA players and media accounted for 25 percent each.

The Eastern Conference starters are Kemba Walker, Trae Young, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid and Pascal Siakam.

The Western Conference starters are LeBron James, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Luka Doncic and Kawhi Leonard.

By receiving the most votes in their conferences, Antetokounmpo and James will be the captains of teams to be chosen by them on Feb. 6 in a televised event on TNT. The seven reserves for each team will be selected by a vote of the coaches from each conference and announced Jan. 30 on TNT.

The speculation has been that with the game in Chicago, LaVine's best chance to be selected could be as an injury replacement. Commissioner Adam Silver makes that choice, if necessary, without regard to any list or vote. Joel Embiid is currently out after surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left hand, but he is expected to return at least a week before the All-Star Game, if not sooner.

LaVine is certainly in the conversation for a coach selection based on his play this season, averaging 25 points, which is fourth-best in the Eastern Conference, and ranking sixth in the conference in steals with 66. LaVine also is shooting 39 percent on threes with 4.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game, becoming one of the more versatile players in the NBA.

LaVine scored 25 points in the Bulls win on Wednesday

Working against LaVine's chances is the Bulls' record, currently 17-29 and 10th in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls are two and a half games behind eighth place Brooklyn, and play Sacramento on Friday, Cleveland on Saturday, San Antonio on Monday and Indiana on Wednesday. The coach votes are due Thursday. It's conceivable that when they travel to Brooklyn on Jan. 31, the Bulls could be playing for eighth in the conference.

But since the coaches historically have tended to break ties in favor of players from teams with winning records, LaVine's selection remains debatable.

On Thursday, the NBA released the standings of the voting among fans, players and media, and LaVine was in position to be selected based on those results. However, the coaches can ignore those totals since that voting was only for the starters.

The starters' voting was divided in two categories of frontcourt and backcourt players.

Among East backcourt players, LaVine was tied for sixth with Ben Simmons. After starters Walker and Young, Kyrie Irving was third and Derrick Rose and Kyle Lowry were tied for fourth. Irving slipping out of a starting spot probably aids LaVine's candidacy because the coaches are unlikely to add Irving since he's missed so many games (27) and the team has played poorly in games he's played (1-4) since his return from injury.

Among frontcourt players after the starters, Jimmy Butler finished fourth, Jayson Tatum fifth and Bam Adebayo sixth.

Based on those rankings, LaVine would be in position to be one of the last two additions to the 12-player squad. But the Bulls record may remain the largest obstacle.

LaVine skies over the Cavaliers

The popular TNT broadcasters—Charles Barkley, Shaquille O'Neal, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson—offered their choices for the reserves following the announcement on their show. None, of course, have any actual influence in the true vote.

But none selected LaVine among their seven East reserves.

Their lists were.

Barkley: Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Andre Drummond, Derrick Rose, Domantas Sabonis, Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum.

Smith: Bam Adebayo, Malcolm Brogdon, Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, Derrick Rose, Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum.

O'Neal: Bam Adebayo, Bradley Beal, Jaylen Brown, Jimmy Butler, Andre Drummond, Khris Middleton, Domantas Sabonis.

Johnson: Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, Domantas Sabonis, Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum.

Though not binding, their guesses are usually reasonably accurate and reflect conventional wisdom about the game's top players.

The most notable omission among the Eastern Conference starters was former Bull, Jimmy Butler, now with resurgent Heat. Butler will surely be added to the team.

LaVine being defended by Butler

Boston's Jayson Tatum also seems to be a certain selection with the 29-14 Celtics having a better-than-expected season.

Which also is what could work against LaVine.

Miami, Toronto and Indiana, the latter without Victor Oladipo, are all having positive seasons. Coaches generally like to reward players from those teams.

The Pacers didn't get a starter, so the sentiment seems to be Domantas Sabonis and/or Malcolm Brogdon will be added, even though LaVine's scoring production has been significantly higher than either of those players. Similarly, coaches usually like to add a player or two from a high achieving team, which was generally why Khris Middleton made the team last year. He probably will again with Milwaukee owning the league's best record of 39-6.

LaVine being guarded by Middleton

Likewise, Toronto could get a second player along with the 76ers, most likely Kyle Lowry from the Raptors and Ben Simmons from the 76ers, respectively. Plus, there's been sentiment to add a second Miami player because the Heat are a surprise second in the East. The likely candidate would be Bam Adebayo.

If that thinking prevails, the reserves could be:

Butler Tatum Sabonis Lowry Adebayo Simmons Middleton

Then there's popular and productive players from teams with losing records, like Bradley Beal, Spencer Dinwiddie, Derrick Rose, Andre Drummond and Nikola Vucevic, and others who might be in consideration like Jaylen Brown and Tobias Harris.

Frank Vogel will represent the Western Conference as head coach with the Lakers clinching the top record. No team can pass the Lakers, who are in first by 4.5 games, by the Feb. 2 final record date. Coaches cannot appear in consecutive seasons, so Milwaukee's Mike Budenholzer is ineligible. West reserves likely will be chosen from among Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Nikola Jokic, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Donovan Mitchell, Brandon Ingram (not Zion yet), Rudy Gobert, DeMar DeRozan, Devin Booker, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, LaMarcus Aldridge, Karl-Anthony Towns and Ja Morant.

It's going to be a nervous few days for LaVine and the Bulls, and a few timely wins could help.

Got a question for Sam?

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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