Few teams have surprised basketball fans as much as the Chicago Bulls have. At 22-10, Chicago is not only a near-lock to make the postseason, but also is in the mix for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. And a huge reason why is Zach LaVine.
The 26-year-old LaVine has been everything the Bulls hoped for and more in 2021-22, as he appears destined to play in his first-ever postseason. But before that happens, there are three reasons why the talented shooting guard deserves to enjoy the fruits of his labor in Cleveland during All-Star Weekend.
3. Few players rival LaVine’s numbers
LaVine is truly doing a bit of everything in his eighth season. And his numbers just ahead of the new year show that few potential All-Stars can hold a candle to the former UCLA Bruin.
Through 30 games, LaVine is averaging 26.3 points. Only Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Trae Young, and teammate DeMar DeRozan have averaged more. But that obviously places LaVine well ahead of many prominent players, including fellow Eastern Conference foes Jayson Tatum, Bradley Beal, and James Harden.
The 2014 first-round pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves is scoring from all over the court, evident by his 55.7% rate from two and 41.6% clip from three. His 3-point percentage is ranked 23rd across the entire NBA, beating out both Curry brothers as well as last year’s Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball.
While scoring is clearly his specialty, LaVine is no slouch as a playmaker. His 4.4 assists place him ninth among all shooting guards, decimal points behind two-time All-Star Devin Booker.
As a whole, LaVine is ninth overall in offensive box plus-minus and 11th overall in VORP (Value Over Replacement Player). Harden, Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard, and Donovan Mitchell are four All-Star players LaVine ranks higher than for both stats.
2. The Chicago Bulls are winning again
Team success shouldn’t matter too much when it comes to All-Star selections. After all, the NBA’s premier midseason event should be a showcase for all of the best players, even the ones with no postseason chances. But LaVine deserves to receive a boost due to the success of his own team.
As alluded to earlier, winning has been a novel concept for the Bulls over the last several years. The last time Chicago made the playoffs was in 2016-17 as a 41-41 eight seed. But things are changing in the Windy City, thanks in large part to LaVine.
Now, LaVine and DeRozan have formed one of the most fearsome 1-2 combos in the league. And they’ve made the Bulls must-see television as a result. Best of all, they’ve brought relevance to the team playing in the nation’s third-largest media market.
Even though the league wants players from around the league to take part in All-Star festivities, it still needs to shine a light on the faces of its most successful teams. The Bulls now fall in that category again, with LaVine admirably serving as their fearless leader.
1. Zach LaVine is proving 2020-21 was no fluke
There have been many one-off All-Stars over the years. For every LeBron James and Kevin Durant, there’s a Mo Williams or Mehmet Okur who randomly finds themselves on the All-Star team. Though if this season is any indication, LaVine’s brilliance is no fluke.
The 6-foot-5 guard has become more than the Slam Dunk Contest champion he began his career as. LaVine’s scoring numbers rose in each of his first four seasons in Chicago, culminating in a career-best 27.4 points on 50.7% shooting in 2020-21. His breakout season resulted in an All-Star nod for the 2021 game in Atlanta, where he scored 13 points in 28 minutes for Team Durant.
Even as DeRozan has come in and taken a good deal of points and shots for himself, LaVine is still close to matching last season’s output. Along with his shooting percentages being nearly identical, the eight-year veteran is also producing close to one fewer turnover per game.
It’s clear that LaVine is just as good now as he was last year. Factoring in that he’s essentially a top-10 statistical player, and that the Chicago Bulls are nationally relevant, the argument for LaVine becoming a two-time All-Star is a certified no-brainer.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.