All-Star Zach LaVine is in ELITE NBA company this season

"I'm glad I have this chance and I can go out there and represent the city of Chicago."
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
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The All-Star game in some respects also is a fashion show for the Most Valuable Player award. The game, this season Sunday in Atlanta, features the best in basketball, and then the best among the best. Like Zach LaVine?

The Bulls scoring guard finally received his official membership and probably secret handshake instructions for the special club upon being named an All-Star this season. And statistically, at least, LaVine also is part of an even more exclusive fraternity, those NBA players who are the most productive and efficient.

This season they have been Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant.

And Zach LaVine.

Zach LaVine

LaVine flushes home a slam with against the Lakers.

ESPN Stats in a mathematical preamble to the Big Game Sunday revealed that just five players in NBA history averaged at least 27 points while shooting at least 50 percent on field goals, 40 percent on three sand 85 percent on free throws.

Five players are on track to do so this year, top MVP candidates Embiid and Jokic, Irving and Durant from the Nets who are battling the 76ers for the top of the Eastern Conference.

And Zach LaVine.

Often people take for granted what is closest and most familiar to them.

Certainly with the Bulls 16-18 and those players all with more successful teams, LaVine tends to be overlooked. But not so much by the stars of the game. In the revised format for the game with the leading vote getters—this year LeBron James and the injured and not playing Durant—selecting players like in a playground game, LaVine was picked by Durant for an Eastern Conference dominated team. LaVine in his first All-Star appearance was selected half way through, fourth among seven Durant selections.

Watching the selections and waiting his turn, James remarked about LaVine, "That boy a sniper. That boy got game."

It sounded like a compliment.

"This is one of the best years I've played, obviously individually, but team success wise, too," LaVine said recently in All-Star comments. "So it's very fulfilling. I don't think it's a waiting game (missing the game the last two seasons despite scoring increases). Of course it was worth it. If it doesn't happen for you, you just go in there and go for it next year. For me, I think it was going to happen. It was going to be a matter of time. I'm just happy that the team success we have is a big part of that.

"I've told you (media) guys over the last couple years, I feel I've been playing at an All-Star level," LaVine said. "But this year is a little different. I've been obviously trying the best I can to do whatever it takes to contribute to winning. I feel I've done a good job of helping us get to that eighth spot. I think that's what my main focus was.

"I've been shooting the ball really well," LaVine agreed. "I just think I've gotten a lot more consistent. I think people always labeled me as an athletic slasher, dunker. But coming out of UCLA, I made the most threes as a freshman in UCLA. I've always been able to shoot. I've always been able to score. I've just gotten a lot better at being more consistent and having better shot selection."

Zach LaVine

"This is one of the best years I've played, obviously individually, but team success wise, too"

The Bulls come into the All-Star break effectively tied with the Toronto Raptors for eighth in the Eastern Conference, both two games under .500. This season there is a play-in tournament for the last two playoff spots for the teams that finish seventh through 10th in the conference.

LaVine's play has been a primarily reason the Bulls have returned to competitive relevancy, but so has the addition of former Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan.

"Billy's been great," LaVine said after his All-Star announcement. "Total 180 from what we had last year ‘cause we pretty much have the same team. We've had our share of ups and downs, games we should have won and didn't come out and play the right way. But our approach and my approach is just so much different mentally. I've been saying this the whole time, [Donovan] challenges you. And he's so respected and goes about it the right way. Everything comes from winning and it's team oriented. You do that you're going to have individual success, especially for talented players. You have to have some ownership in that, and obviously we were all bought in from the beginning. We were ready to fight for this guy.''

LaVine is close with his family and also credits his father for so much of his success.

"Obviously, I always give credit to my family. But my dad was my biggest inspiration," LaVine said. "He was the one that pushed me each and every day and continues to. Even after a game I had where I'll have a good game, he'll still call me and tell me the things I didn't do right or could have gotten better. He's always been that driving force. My high school coach was a big contributor in allowing me to play my game in high school and letting me show my full talent. My trainer, Drew Hanlen, thought I was an All-Star, playing at an All-Star level last year. He said, ‘You just got to go out there and build on what you did last year.' I think I did that. I've seen myself at this level. I wanted to be there. You think you are not. I know me as an All-Star."

And the numbers scream it.

Zach LaVine

LaVine shoots over fellow All-Star Bradley Beal.

The 6-6, 25-year-old LaVine has had many doubters, especially because of the Bulls process of working through rebuilding since he arrived from Minnesota in trade in 2017.

But that ESPN observation is signifiant.

It places LaVine among the best for his contributions on the court, a rare statistical milestone that no one in Bulls franchise history has achieved. Every record in Bulls history, of course, is measured against Michael Jordan. Jordan was not a good three-point shooter, though he did exceed 40 percent one season. He didn't shoot 50 percent overall that season.

LaVine, incidentally, also will compete in the long distance shooting contest and is one of the favorites. Dwyane Wade on TNT this week chose LaVine as his choice. No player in NBA history has won the All-Star dunk and three-point contests. LaVine again attempts the rarity.

LaVine's averages this season are sublime, 28.7 points, 52.5 percent shooting overall, 43.5 percent on threes and 85.7 percent on free throws.

In that exclusive company of current All-Stars in the 27 points and 50-40-85 club, LaVine is first in threes, second in overall shooting, third in scoring and fourth in free throws. It's possible to make an offensive statistical case that LaVine may be having the best all around season in the NBA.

So tune in Sunday evening (4 p.m. for the contests and 7 p.m for the game) to see what LaVine will do next.

Team LeBron's starting lineup for the game will consist of himself, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic and Jokic. Reserves will feature Damian Lillard, Ben Simmons, Chris Paul, Jaylen Brown, Paul George, Domantas Sabonis and Rudy Gobert.

Team Durant's starting lineup will feature Irving, Embiid, Kawhi Leonard, Jayson Tatum and Bradley Beal. Mike Conley will replace injured Devin Booker coming off the bench with Donovan Mitchell, Zion Williamson, Julius Randle, Nikola Vucevic and LaVine. Durant with a hamstring injury will not play.

It would have been nice last year when the All-Star game was in Chicago, but it still will be special. And much deserved.

"I think it would have been great for me to obviously make in Chicago last year," LaVine said recently. "I was a little upset about that because it was in my home state. I really wanted to represent for that. But I'm glad I have this chance and I can go out there and represent the city of Chicago."

Zach LaVine is a player making Chicago proud. He's certainly in Rare Air now.

Got a question for Sam?

Submit your question to Sam at asksam@bulls.com

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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