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The All-Star case for Zach LaVine

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but the field is crowded

NBA: Washington Wizards at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA released the second voting returns for the 2021 All-Star Game (that’s actually going to happen) on Thursday, with Bulls guard Zach LaVine holding firm in fifth among Eastern Conference guards behind Bradley Beal, Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Jaylen Brown.

Here are the full voting results thus far:

LaVine was never going to be voted in as a starter, but it’s nice to see him getting some credit from the fans for his strong season. I’m honestly kind of surprised LaVine is above Trae Young in the voting, though that could just be a function of the large fan base in Chicago and the concerted push the franchise and its owned media arms are making to get him in.

On merit, LaVine is building himself a strong case to be selected as a reserve to his first All-Star Game. His 46-point explosion against the Pelicans on Wednesday was just the latest example of his historic scoring exploits this season.

LaVine is now averaging a career-high 28.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists while shooting 51.8% overall, 42.5% on 3-pointers and 86.3% on free throws. His true shooting percentage sits at a whopping 65.2%, which is fifth among players with a usage rate over 25 (he’s right around 30). This is truly impressive stuff, a combination of offensive volume and efficiency eclipsing the best Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler Bulls seasons into a historic stratosphere:

LaVine obviously still has his flaws, namely clutch shooting/decision-making (34.0% shooting overall and 5-of-19 from 3 in clutch situations), defense (the defensive on/off splits are ghastly) and turnovers (career-high 3.9 per game)

But overall he has made a clear leap this season. He’s getting better at the stuff he was already good at with scoring efficiently at all three levels, plus is improving in other areas like his ability to make more advanced reads as a passer. The Bulls are a borderline top-10 offense and it’s centered around LaVine.

However, deserve’s got nothing to do with it. When looking at the actual field of players. Even in the JV conference the field is strong and could be tough to crack.

Surveying the top-four teams in the East, I think at least nine players are coming from this group:

  • Sixers (Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris)
  • Bucks (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday)
  • Nets (Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving)
  • Celtics (Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown)

Then there’s Beal, against which LaVine’s numbers actually stack up well, but despite leading a terrible Wizards team he’s crushing the fan vote.

Trae Young is another intriguing comparison. Zach has the edge in scoring efficiency, but Trae’s playmaking is huge (shown by his lineup impact) and his Hawks team has been slightly better than the Bulls while also dealing with injuries.

There are plenty of other fringe candidates, though obviously none of them can match LaVine’s gaudy scoring stats and most of them LaVine should get the nod over:

  • Raptors (Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet)
  • Pacers (Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner)
  • Hornets (Gordon Hayward, LaMelo Ball)
  • Hawks (John Collins, Clint Capela)
  • Knicks (Julius Randle)
  • Heat (Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo)
  • Cavaliers (Collin Sexton, Andre Drummond)
  • Magic (Nikola Vucevic)
  • Wizards (Russell Westbrook)
  • Pistons (Jerami Grant)

The All-Star reserves will be announced February 23rd. With the Bulls shorthanded over the next couple weeks, LaVine can really help his cause by keeping the team afloat. If he’s still putting up these incredible numbers while leading the Bulls to wins, he’ll have deserved the recognition and it will be hard to keep him off the 12-man East roster.