No player has ever won both of the All-Star Slam Dunk contest and Three-Point Contest. Zach LaVine can be the first.
Is it Zach LaVine's time to raise a trophy in Chicago?
LaVine will get the opportunity during All-Star weekend in Chicago Feb. 15 when he competes in the All-Star Saturday Night Three-Point Contest.
LaVine will be the first Bulls player to compete in the contest since Steve Kerr won in 1997. Craig Hodges was a three-time winner for the Bulls from 1990-92. B.J. Armstrong and Michael Jordan have also competed for the Bulls.
LaVine, unless there are injury replacements, will be the only current Bulls player competing during All-Star weekend Feb. 14-16. Wendell Carter Jr. was chosen for the Rising Stars rookie/sophomore game. He is injured and will not participate, but he said he will attend.
"If I get in a rhythm, I think I can win it," said LaVine. "I think it will be fun. It will be different. It will be something I haven't done before, so I can go out and practice it. Hopefully, the rims give me a friendly bounce for the hometown guy."
LaVine is shooting 37.6 percent on threes this season, which ranks 70th in the NBA. LaVine had been around 40 percent much of the season and ranks 10th in the NBA in three pointers made and attempted this season. He's slumped only lately in trying to carry a Bulls team without injured Carter, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and now Kris Dunn, the latter with a knee sprain that will likely keep him out to perhaps March.
It left the Bulls to practice briefly Wednesday with seven players.
"We had eight guys this morning for our batting practice, which is our individual development," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "Then we had seven guys go through (plays), some defensive fundamentals. I held Denzel out of the practice part of practice. He did his batting practice, but he has a little hamstring tightness, so just keeping an eye on that. I held out Zach, Sato (Tomas Satoransky) and Thad (Young). I thought they needed a day. We will practice tomorrow and get into our New Orleans game plan, continue to work on our development of our guys. That's where we're at.''
That's at an unsteady 19-33 and with three straight losses facing rookie sensation Zion Williamson Thursday in the United Center. Then there is a road trip to Philadelphia and Washington before the All-Star break and the third ever All-Star game in Chicago.
"Nothing has been easy for us this year," LaVine said Tuesday at the Advocate Center. "I don't want to say we're used to playing undermanned. But it's almost like we are. It just sucks for KD (Dunn). I've been talking to him, making sure he keeps his head high. He's been having a really good year, leading the league in steals and things like that. It's tough. He's built for things like this. He's a tough minded dude. We're all supporting him. We've got to keep moving forward. It's not going to get easier. Teams aren't going to be like, ‘Oh, let's take a break because they're injured.' We gotta go out there and play. We have to have dudes step up in multiple ways."
The Bulls aren't out of playoff contention in the Eastern Conference despite the injuries and their record with Brooklyn and Orlando stumbling recently. Porter and Carter are expected to return shortly after the All-Star break with Markkanen perhaps not long after. So everyone needs a shot of optimism after this disappointing first half of the season. Perhaps LaVine can produce that with his own shooting display.
A win would be historic since LaVine is a two-time dunk contest winner. No player has won both of the highlight contests. LaVine considered trying to do that in one All-Star weekend, which never even was attempted. But only if he were elected to the Sunday All-Star game. LaVine was one of the prominent East snubs along with Bradley Beal as coaches voting for the reserves often forget that you're an All-Star based on what you do and not necessarily what your team does. It's not an All-Star team designation.
"If I would have made it, I would've wanted to put on a big-time show for the crowd," LaVine said. "I would've tried to do all three of them, the All-Star game, dunk contest and three-point contest. It didn't happen. Now I have to reevaluate where my legs are and where the team is and where my mind is and I'm just doing the three-point contest.
"Like I told you (media) guys, if I made the All-Star game I would've felt a lot better about doing the dunk contest," said LaVine. "I feel like I don't have a lot more to prove with that. The three-point contest is something I've been wanting to do. Obviously, I want to do something for Chicago during All-Star weekend. Get ready to shoot some more threes. I don't know how many dunks I've got this year. I know the United Center has seen a lot of them."
It's probably wise that LaVine isn't attempting the dunk contest, which was last won by a Bulls player in 1988—the last All-Star game in Chicago—when Jordan defeated Dominique Wilkens in a famously controversial judging. In that era, the dunk event was the premier contest of All-Star weekend because the league's best dunkers and most popular players participated.
That changed in the early 2000s with the dunk contest mostly regarded now as a demonstration among second tier players. LaVine was the winner in 2015 and 2016 when he was just starting his NBA career. The Lakers Dwight Howard, the Magic's Aaron Gordon, the Heat's Derrick Jones Jr. and Milwaukee's Pat Connaughton are expected to compete. LaVine defeated Gordon in 2016 in one of the most competitive contests. LaVine then had ACL surgery in 2017 and has note competed in the dunk contest after the serious knee surgery. It probably would have been reckless for LaVine to risk injury in a contest the top players like LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard have dismissed. It seems if you want to be considered elite in the NBA, you become a spectator at the dunk contest.
The three-point contest will include Portland's Damian Lillard, Charlotte's Devonte' Graham, Atlanta's Trae Young, Sacramento's Buddy Hield, Miami's Duncan Robinson, Brooklyn's Joe Harris and Washington's Davis Bertans. The format is being tweaked some to add shots from farther away. Though reportedly still while on the court.
Zach LaVine hit 13 threes vs. the Charlotte Hornets in a single game earlier this season
The other premier contest of All-Star Saturday Night is the Skills Competition. Competitors will include former Bull Derrick Rose along with Chicagoan Patrick Beverley of the Clippers, the Pacers Domantas Sabonis, Brooklyn's Spencer Dinwiddie, Toronto's Pascal Siakam, Miami's Bam Adebayo, Milwaukee's Khris Middleton and Boston's Jayson Tatum. Rose won in 2009. The Rising Stars game is 7 p.m. Friday in the United Center, where all the major contests will occur. The All-Star game is 7 p.m. Sunday.
There is a new scoring format for the All-Star game this year in an apparent attempt to get the players to try harder. Or at all.
The score will be reset to 0-0 after the first and second quarters. At the end of the third quarter, the total scores from each quarter will be combined, as it would be in a typical game. The fourth quarter will be untimed. Instead, a target score will be set by adding 24 points (Kobe Bryant's old uniform number) to the total of whichever team has the lead through three quarters. So if the team in the lead has 100 points, the target score would be 124. The first team to reach that target would win the game. There are various charity donations based on winning quarters. Calculators are not being distributed.
It's unfortunate LaVine wasn't selected for the Sunday game despite having a superior individual statistical season to several of those chosen. The East coaches who voted for the reserves didn't pick anyone from a team with a losing record. Atlanta's Young got in mostly on fan voting. The commissioner selects a replacement if there is an injury.
"You never hope for anybody to get injured," said LaVine. "I know personally I had an All-Star season. I understand the players that were picked were all deserving. You just worry about yourself and how you and your team performs. I'm going out still trying to help us make the playoffs. I don't hang my head or feel sorry or anything like that. I understand what type of season I'm having and who I am as a player."
LaVine said he will try to practice on the racks shooters use during the event. Boylen said he was on the San Antonio Spurs staff when former Bull Marco Belinelli won the contest in 2014.
"I've worked with guys before that have done that," said Boylen. "There are some tricks of the trade on that a little bit for guys who have been around. So Zach was open to that. He's a competitive guy and he's a great shooter. I talked to our equipment guys three weeks ago and had them order the same ball racks they use. Stuff like that. Same ball racks. Where do you put your money balls? What side do you grab the ball from? There's a lot to it. Zach has his own feel. He's already a terrific shooter. So we'll just support him like we would anyone else."
Thursday also is the NBA trading deadline. Boylen said from what he has heard it seems quiet around the NBA. LaVine said it's just part of the business of basketball.
"I always have an ear on what's going on," LaVine said. "We know it's a business. My first year in the NBA, I had 26 guys in and out of the locker room. So I got accustomed to the NBA pretty quickly. You never know. You appreciate your time with your teammates, but you have to understand it's a business, too. We'll see what happens."
There might be quite a bit in the next few weeks.