Why Zach LaVine has a good chance to earn an All-Star reserve spot
The timing seemed ideal. A day after Zach LaVine led the Bulls to a comeback win over Detroit with an efficient 37-point performance, the NBA announced official plans to hold a 2021 All-Star Game in Atlanta on March 7.
So is this the year, LaVine is finally chosen for the All-Star team?
As of Thursday morning, he ranked seventh in the league in scoring at 28.5 points per game. LaVine is averaging career-highs in rebounds (5.5) and assists (5.2), while his shooting percentages are especially impressive -- 52 percent overall and 43.7 percent from 3-point range.
So the numbers say yes, but this is still a very subjective decision. Should winning mean more than statistics? Should the second half of last season count just as much as what's happened so far this year? We'll find out next week if he's chosen as a reserve by Eastern Conference coaches.
"Zach has been amazing all season long," teammate Thad Young said Wednesday. "He's definitely an All-Star. He's playing at a super high level."
It does seem possible there will be a lot of players backing out of this year's game. So even if LaVine isn't selected, he might have a good chance of being a replacement.
History has already repeated itself when it comes to throwing a barrier in front of LaVine. The Bulls' top scorer owns the fact that he hasn't played on a winning team yet, but for the second year in a row, a player in the East on a team with a worse record than the Bulls has been voted a starter. Washington's Bradley Beal made it this year and Atlanta's Trae Young won the fan vote last season.
Beal currently leads the NBA in scoring at 32.8 points per game. But LaVine has better numbers than Beal in assists, rebounds, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage. The Bulls also have a 12-15 record, while the Wizards are 9-17.
Along those lines, a strong argument can be made for LaVine making the all-star team ahead of Young. The Atlanta guard ranks fourth in the league with 9.3 assists, but his scoring (26.9 points) is down from last year, he's second in the league in turnovers per game, he's well behind LaVine in shooting accuracy, and after a hot start, the Hawks how have a 12-16 record.
The All-Star starters were announced Thursday on TNT. The East will have Beal, Brooklyn's Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo and Philadelphia's Joel Embiid.
The West starters are Golden State's Steph Curry, Dallas' Luka Doncic, the Lakers' LeBron James, Denver's Nikola Jokic and the Clippers' Kawhi Leonard. As leading vote-getters in each league, James and Durant will be captains and pick teams on Mar. 4.
The voting results appears to favor LaVine's candidacy. He finished fourth among East guards in fan voting, tied for third in player voting with Brooklyn's James Harden, and was fifth in media voting. LaVine passed Boston's Jaylen Brown for fourth place in the fan vote after the Feb. 11 voting results were released.
If the votes are used as a guideline, the East reserves would include LaVine, Harden, Boston's Brown and Jayson Tatum, Miami's Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, and New York's Julius Randle.
That's a pretty good list, but it doesn't include Ben Simmons, whose Philadelphia 76ers have the best record in the East. There's no one from Indiana, Toronto or Charlotte, all playoff teams as of Thursday.
Should Butler and Adebayo getting to the Finals last season outweigh Miami's 11-17 record? Yeah, probably. But Simmons should make it, likely ahead of Tatum, and Indiana's Domantas Sabonis could get the nod over Adebayo.
This year's All-Star Game was originally scheduled for Indianapolis in February, but that version was canceled long ago. The revised version in Atlanta will include a pregame skills challenge and 3-point contest, with a dunk contest at halftime. The game itself will use the same target score and untimed fourth quarter used last year at the United Center.
But this is a good time for Bulls fans to appreciate LaVine's steady improvement. He's not a guy who impacted winning from Day One in the NBA, and those players are very rare, but you win with great players and LaVine has made that climb.
"He's still relatively young in a lot of ways," Bulls coach Billy Donovan said of the 25-year-old LaVine. "I think the hard part for him is it's almost like its been a rookie year every year for him, because anytime you bring in a new coach, its kind of like starting over.
"You're learning a new system, style, terminology and there hasn't been a lot of continuity for him. So I think he's trying to figure out how he can impact winning. It's been a process for him, but it's a process I think he's committed to and he's working hard at."