Zach LaVine wants to be an All-Star. We know this because he won’t stop talking about it. The Bulls media (both state-run and independent) won’t stop talking about it either.
It makes sense. There is only a finite number of ways one can pen a ‘those running the team are actually bad and evil’ post, and the question of LaVine’s All-Star legitimacy is one of the few positive stories to push amid another long, losing season. And the combination of LaVine’s play and the game being in Chicago for the first time in decades has the topic gaining momentum.
But it really is two topics: Should LaVine make the All-Star team? And if he does, does it really matter in the context of this Bulls rebuild?
The case for LaVine
Having appeared in all 42 games this season, averaging 24.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists in 33.9 minutes, LaVine certainly has the individual base numbers to project himself into All-Star conversation.
And by evolving into one of the most dynamic scorers in the league, LaVine is aesthetically made to be in the league’s exhibition showcase. As such, it isn’t a surprise to see him rank sixth overall in fan voting among East guards. The fan results indicate a recognition of LaVine in not only his headlights, but the gargantuan amount of work he does to carry the Bulls offense.
But while scoring is something LaVine has excelled at this season, there’s always the stigma remaining of a susceptibility to give those points back on the defensive side of the ball. He’s been suffered with these perception problems for much of his career, but this year should change that.
Though LaVine largely remains a one-way player who only impacts the game through his own scoring output, for the first time in his six-year career he is finally producing at an overall positive level.
He’s been even better than merely ‘positive’ over the last 26 games of the season (since Nov. 23), if you glance over the on/off splits during that period.
To meaningfully put some context around these numbers, if extrapolated to an entire season the Bulls’ offensive rating would be commensurate with a No. 14 ranked offense. They’d also be the No. 14 ranked defense. In other words, over this large stretch of games when LaVine plays the Bulls essentially become an average NBA team. And to show his value, you can see when he sits though the defense rises to an elite level, the offense plummets to historic lows. Without LaVine on the court the Bulls are outright bad.
Based on the numbers highlighted above, the Bulls need LaVine if they are to resemble anything close to a functioning offense. And while the Bulls have massively underachieved this season overall, think how bad this season would actually be if it weren’t for LaVine saving this offense from itself.
The case against LaVine
Ranking sixth among East guards is notable, but it appears unlikely LaVine will be voted in as a starter. LaVine then is reliant on the coaches to place him in one of the seven reserve slots.
It’s reasonable to assume coaches will prioritise players who are putting numbers up on winning teams. And if so, LaVine’s candidacy would be adversely affected.
Looking at LaVine’s competition, that rationale would be true for Trae Young and Bradley Beal as well. But Young is on track to be voted in as a starter, so it may come down to a decision between LaVine and Beal for the final spot on the squad.
Statistically they are pretty similar offensively, and both players are not known for their defense. If looking at impact, Beal has missed seven of his team’s last ten games, and played in one where he was outdueled by LaVine and the Bulls. Beal’s Wizards are even worse than the Bulls, having lost to them twice and residing a couple games back in the woeful East standings. So if winning makes that much of a difference, LaVine actually has the edge here.
However Beal has been an All-Star the prior two seasons, and in his career came in with a better pedigree and has since established himself in a higher tier of player. That all would likely give him an edge.
Are any of the three above actually deserving? Does any player who has the luxury of being a No. 1 option on a bad team deserve the right to make the final roster ahead of players who have lesser numbers, but a more positive impact on both sides of the ball? And on teams who are actually winning games?
For that reason, Malcolm Brogdon, Kyle Lowry, Jaylen Brown, and host of other worthy names deserve consideration, too. If wins are what should separate players, why does LaVine deserve a place ahead of Khris Middleton?
The reality is, having to choose between a bunch good but not great players for the final spots in an exhibition game becomes a matter of personal preference. And for someone like myself who values a defined set of selectable criteria that everyone can follow and use...the entire conversation is nauseating.
Does making the All-Star game change anything for LaVine and this rebuild?
An All-Star selection would be the momentary peak of LaVine’s career to date, and worth rooting for as affirmation of his recovery from a serious knee injury. But also as a fan it’s hard to envision this possible achievement meaning anything substantive for the team and its rebuild. The Bulls themselves will certainly spin a LaVine selection as proof of ‘growth’ (speaking of ‘nauseating’ -yfbb). And like the standings, no context will be given that this is the Eastern Conference we’re talking about.
I suppose we could speculate that LaVine merely spending time with the other stars from around the league, in his building and city, could be an opportunity to sell these players on joining the Bulls in future free agency periods. But what would LaVine actually be selling? After all, his team is still led by the same maligned ownership and management, coached by a buffon that players voted as someone they would least like to play for. We’ve seen LaVine look frustrated all year.
Instead, the disaster of this season is actually making a LaVine All-Star berth another cost: where we’re left hoping other star players aren’t using the opportunity to get LaVine to try and join them elsewhere.