From the June 2017 day the Bulls unveiled Zach LaVine as one of the centerpieces from their decision to trade Jimmy Butler, the affable guard has embraced his face of the franchise role.
This position always has placed LaVine as a focal point of team success, or lack thereof, and thus foisted upon him the debate of whether or not he can be a crucial contributor to a championship team.
LaVine supplied at least a partial answer on Tuesday. How does NBA All-Star sound?
Achieving an oft-publicized personal goal, LaVine earned his first All-Star game appearance, voted in as a reserve by coaches for the March 7 affair in Atlanta. That strict safety protocols for COVID-19 will affect the length and pomp and circumstance of the league’s All-Star extravaganza doesn’t make the honor any less satisfying for LaVine.
“I feel I’ve played at an All-Star level the last couple of years. I don’t think there are people who have had better seasons than me over the last couple years in the Eastern Conference,” LaVine said over the weekend. “But it comes down to winning. You have to show that.”
This is where LaVine’s desire to be an All-Star sometimes got twisted, fitting neatly into the narrative for some that he is an empty calories scorer who doesn’t impact winning. LaVine always placed team success before individual success.
But his maturation to understand that he didn’t need to try to score 30 or 40 points every night and his evolution into becoming a more efficient scorer and improved two-way player is a large reason why LaVine is where he is now. The Bulls’ 14-16 record doesn’t hurt, either.
But LaVine’s individual season is eye-popping. His shooting splits of 51.8/43.4/86.4 place him in rare air and his averages of 28.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists while shooting at those splits place him in historic company. Only Steph Curry and Larry Bird have cleared 28-5-5 averages on 50/40/80 shooting splits over a full season in NBA history.
That LaVine is accomplishing all this when he’s always the center of defensive attention is even more impressive.
“Ever since I came here, everything he’s wanted to do has been about winning,” coach Billy Donovan said.
LaVine is the Bulls’ first All-Star selection since Butler also earned reserve status in the 2017 game. He joins Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and Butler as the only Bulls to achieve this status since the dynasty ended and Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were permanent fixtures.
LaVine is known for his strong work ethic and offseason commitment. His father, Paul, a former professional football player, long has been a mentor. And his workouts with noted trainer Drew Hanlen typically bring back a new or improved skill set each season.
LaVine got engaged during quarantine and is open about what family means to him. This honor is as much for them as for him and the Bulls.
“It would be very gratifying, especially for my family and the hard work I put in,” LaVine said over the weekend, about what an All-Star honor would mean. “But I’m not going to let it make or break my year. I know who I am when I step out there.”
LaVine long has believed he’s an All-Star. Now, it’s official.
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