Zach LaVine has been among the NBA's most elite this season

LaVine is seriously flirting with the 50-40-90 shooting club so far this year.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
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You sometimes wonder what Stephen Curry thinks about when he plays against the best shooter in the NBA. You know, when he plays against Zach LaVine.

Earlier this season, veteran guard Garrett Temple was saying that LaVine is a "budding superstar" in the NBA.

Could he be blooming?

LaVine following Wednesday's 46-point sensation in the victory over the New Orleans Pelicans is fifth in the NBA in scoring at 28.1 per game. Less quietly, though we get to see it regularly, is the ease, assurance and accuracy in which LaVine shoots the ball.

Lauri finishes and one

And that for a team still below .500 on which he is by far the leading scorer, and so predictably the first name on the opponent's scouting report.

Yet, LaVine is flirting seriously with the 50-40-90 shooting rarity that's only been reached eight times in NBA history, including, of course, by Curry. And the elite of NBA shooters Larry Bird, Kevin Durant, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki and Mark Price (Malcolm Brogdon also, but he was the only one in fewer than 70 games).

LaVine is shooting 51.8 percent overall and 42.5 percent on threes. His free throw shooting is down to 86.3 percent due to an unusual recent stretch against Orlando and Washington when he was a combined 10 of 16. Generally he's close to 90 percent. That marksmanship triple is especially difficult to achieve, especially when you examine the current statistics of some of the best shooters in the game.

Curry, whom many consider the best shooter in the history of the NBA, is shooting 48.7 percent overall and 42.9 percent on threes. LaVine's true shooting percentage in advanced statistics is essentially tied with Curry because Curry is 93 percent on free throws. When they're moving, Zach's been better. In effective field goal percentage that merges two-point and three-point shooting, LaVine is second to Paul George among the top 25 scorers.

LaVine leads the NBA in true shooting percentage among shooting guards except for role players like Wayne Ellington, Jeremy Lamb, Seth Curry and Bryn Forbes. And he's among the few in the top 20 in scoring also averaging at least five rebounds and five assists.

Like Kawhi Leonard, who is averaging 26.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists while shooting 50 percent overall and 40 percent on threes. Leonard certainly is a far superior defender, but only his rebounding average barely exceeds that of LaVine's for all around statistical play.

They will get another look at one another Friday when the Bulls host the Clippers. When the teams played last month in Los Angeles, LaVine had 45 points with 10 threes pointers with a third quarter shootout with Leonard that was one of the highlights of the NBA season.

"Everybody knows him as a scorer, but even starting the game (Wednesday) he was incredibly unselfish and made a lot of great passes and got guys a lot of open shots," Bulls coach Billy Donovan said after the New Orleans game. "The game comes to him easily offensively with the way he can score.

Zach LaVine

Coach Donovan and Zach LaVine

"Zach is really working," Donovan said. "He wants to be a winning player and he knows that maybe throughout this point in time in his career he hasn't had that opportunity. He wants to learn and he wants to get better. He's been a real willing mover and cutter. He knows he needs to get better defensively. He wants to be a leader.

"To do what he does offensively and then be a two-way player, like I told him, the great players in the league play both ends of the floor," said Donovan. "He's made a commitment to do that."

Sometimes it's easy to overlook or take for granted what's most familiar because you see it so often. It's especially true with someone like LaVine because the Bulls still are 10-14 and tied with New York for 10th in the Eastern Conference. That's also a game out of sixth a third of the way through the 72-game season.

The narrative surrounding LaVine, the 25-year-old 6-5 shooting guard, has been he's not quite on a level with the truly elite. But his shooting this season combined with his all around play tends to belie that.

Consider the top scorers in the NBA from the guard and wing positions:

Bradley Beal is leading the league in scoring, but shooting 47 percent overall and 33 percent on threes. LaVine leads him in assists and rebounding.

Damian Lillard is third in scoring at 29.4, but shooting 45 percent overall and 39 percent on threes. He leads LaVine in assists at 7.1, but LaVine has more rebounds.

Luka Doncic has far more assists and rebounds, but shoots just 46 percent and 31 percent on threes. He's seventh in scoring.

Luka Doncic and Zach LaVine

Mavericks star Luka Doncic and Zach LaVine

Jayson Tatum is ninth in the NBA in scoring and shooting 46 percent overall and 41 percent on threes. He averages 6.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists.

James Harden leads the league in assists and averages seven rebounds, but shoots 46 percent overall and 35 percent on threes.

Devin Booker shoots just 35 percent on threes with 4.2 assists and 3.7 rebounds.

Donovan Mitchell, 16th in scoring, averages fewer than five rebounds per game and shoots about 44 percent overall and 42 percent on threes.

LeBron James speeding to another MVP award is 13th in scoring and averaging about eight rebounds and eight assists. LeBron has become a much improved shooter, but still is 39 percent on threes and 72 percent on free throws.

Paul George is out injured again, but Friday it's Kawhi and Zach. They've shown they know how to put on a show. Take a shot. Zach certainly will. Both probably will be good.

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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