Should Zach Be An All-Star?
“I think Zach’s last 13 or 14 games he’s played All-Star basketball. Before that he was playing very good basketball. Now he’s taken it to another level." - Coach Boylen
Remind Me Later •
Deal with it. Zach LaVine is a star.
Perhaps not a superstar — at least not yet — and maybe not an All-Star this season even though he deserves to be when the game comes to the United Center in February.
"All-Star, All-Star, that's all I gotta say, All-Star," Coby White repeated late Saturday in a relaxed Bulls post game locker room. That's right, winning now is merely expected for these guys.
Two in a row, baby, against losing teams!
Perhaps that is a bit too much enthusiasm.
Though the Bulls do go for the big one Monday in Orlando.
They'll be no sate getting to eight; Despite the wait it won't come too late; It's not too big a weight; Because it will feel great.
Rookie White certainly is biased in favor of his teammate. Though White may not be the most astute judge of what it takes to be an All-Star even with his inventory of 31 NBA games.
But with another starring and now winning performance with 13 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter Saturday against the Pistons, LaVine continues to mock the narrative that he's merely a quantity producer without the qualities for success.
"I think Zach's last 13 or 14 games he's played All-Star basketball," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen, who has become a believer. "I don't think anyone can fight that. Before that he was playing very good basketball. Now he's taken it to another level.
"I thought he did it in a lot of different ways (against the Pistons)," Boylen added. "I thought he showed the whole repertoire, got to the line, drove it to the rim, finished at the rim, made deep threes. He's perfecting his shot fake at the end of his move, which is huge for us. He makes it look really easy."
The 6-6 two-time NBA slam dunk champion has shown starring potential before, a 40-point game with seven of 12 threes before his ACL injury with Minnesota in 2017. And then last season starting with four consecutive games of at least 30 points and games of 42 and 47 points within a week after the All-Star break.
LaVine, still just 24 years old, is averaging 23.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists this season while shooting a career best 40 percent on threes. This month as the Bulls finally seem to at least see where the corner is with a 6-5 record, LaVine has increased his averages to 26.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 41 percent on threes. Plus, LaVine's been especially proficient as a closer, fifth in the Eastern Conference this season in fourth quarter scoring and bettering that this month with six of the 11 games scoring at least nine fourth quarter points and four times in double figures. That while still shooting better than 40 percent on threes in fourth quarters.
It's the stuff of closers, of NBA excellence with LaVine making big scores down the stretch in just about every one of the wins, a late three against the Kings, back to back buckets when the Grizzlies late got within a point, a driving score to win against the Clippers and the five late regulation free throws against the Wizards and pass for Wendell Carter's winner.
All that while adding elements to his game, like according to NBA statistics shooting over 40 percent when defenders are closest in his face. LaVine has shown a unique ability to make those difficult shots late in the shot clock. Plus he's a 60 percent shooter early in the shot clock, defying the notion of seeking a better shot. Most open looks are good shots for LaVine.
"I think it's slowing down a little bit for me personally and I know when to take over and take shots," LaVine said after the Pistons game. "Recently I've been seeing the extra play or swinging when two guys are on me. The game is slowing down. This is the first 30 games and we haven't played together, obviously, so I think a little bit of that is starting to come.
"I expect myself to play that way," LaVine said. "It should be this way. Obviously last year I got off to a really hot start with all those (30-point) games. I feel like I've been more efficient, at least in this stretch. I'm just reading the game. Obviously you have good and bad games, but the way you can affect the game I feel I've done a good job of that."
LaVine in his sixth season without a playoff appearance has made clear every time he's asked winning is his priority. Which, at least for now with the Bulls 12-19, probably remains the biggest obstacle to LaVine's first All-Star berth.
That the game is in Chicago this season for the first time since 1988 would make it more special.
"I do think winning is important," Boylen added about All-Star selections. "I've been in those coaches' meetings when you pick a guy off a winning team over a guy who isn't. We need to continue to put some wins together and he needs to continue to do his thing. And if we are winning it probably means he's playing well for us."
You get the sense the entire Bulls locker room is rooting for LaVine as something of a validation of their play.
His play likely is enough to make him a strong candidate. Though the team's record could be the decisive factor. Fan voting has just begun and will continue into mid-January. A combination of fan/media/player voting selects the five starters. Then a ballot of the head coaches in the conference selects the seven reserves. That won't come for another month.
Statistically, LaVine is an Eastern Conference All-Star.
LaVine is fifth in the East in scoring behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, Trae Young, Bradley Beal and Pascal Siakam. Young's and Beal's teams, however, have poorer records than the Bulls and appear to be trending down.
Among three-point shooters in the East, LaVine trails only one likely All-Star, Kemba Walker.
LaVine is eighth among East guards in rebounding with Ben Simmons, Malcolm Brogdon, Jaylen Brown and Beal potential All-Stars with high rebounding averages.
LaVine is 11th among East guards in steals with four potential All-Star having more. He's third among East shooting guards in assists. LaVine also is eighth among East guards in free throw attempts.
If the Bulls can edge toward .500 or better in the next month, LaVine should have a good chance. But the competition will be strong because the Eastern Conference is better than expected this season and the Western Conference somewhat overrated. The top five teams in the Eastern Conference have played better than the top five teams in the Western Conference with the interconference record about even. Plus both conferences have a playoff team below .500.
The Bucks, Celtics, Heat, Raptors and 76ers all could get two All-Stars. Boston could get three with its deep roster. Indiana's Brogdon and Brooklyn's Spencer Dinwiddie, the latter with Kyrie Irving hurt, are deserving of All-Star recognition.
So is LaVine. It would make Chicago in February even more fun than usual.
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