LaVine gaining All-Star support
Boylen, Dunn have seen it: ‘He’s developing in front of our eyes’
Zach LaVine’s teammates and coach see the same thing NBA fans have noticed this season: The Bulls guard is a potential All-Star.
“Absolutely,” Kris Dunn said of LaVine, who received the fifthmost votes among Eastern Conference guards when early results were released Thursday. “He’s done so much for the team. He’s developing in front of our eyes in the sense of getting guys involved and still being himself.
“That’s a hard role to take on for any team and any player, and he’s taken it on head-on. He takes the mistakes right to the chest. A lot of people wouldn’t be able to do that.”
Added coach Jim Boylen: “I think he’s an All-Star player. I’ve coached a bunch of them, been around a bunch of them.”
LaVine’s offensive skills have generated plenty of highlightworthy moments, such as when he capped up a 49-point performance against the Hornets with a winning 3-pointer in November. Or last month in Washington, when he made a series of clutch plays, including a 3-pointer and high-pressure free throws, to send the game to overtime in an eventual Bulls victory against the Wizards.
According to NBA statistics, he has made the most “clutch” 3pointers in the league with 13 after taking the most attempts in those situations — within a five-point margin with five minutes or fewer to go — with 37, shooting 35.1%. He’s 10th in the league in 3pointers made per game at 3.1.
“If he gets in the All-Star Game, I need him in the dunk contest,” Dunn said about LaVine, who twice won the contest in 2015 and ’16. “I told him you’ve got to shut down Chicago, they’re coming to our house. I’m happy for him.”
LaVine is the Bulls’ leading scorer at 23.4 points per game, good for 18th in the league. But even LaVine acknowledged in the preseason that offense alone probably wouldn’t get him an All-Star nod for the Feb. 16 game at the United Center.
“I need to transition to being more of a two-way player,” he said in October. “A lot of people know I can score the ball many ways, (but) I want to be not just known as a scorer, a good player on the team. I want to be in that elitegroup conversation of All-Stars in the NBA. And I feel like that comes with winning.”
LaVine has 45 steals in 35 games this season — he had 63 in 60 games in 2018-19 — and his defensive rating has improved from 112.4 to 106.7.
“He came really far,” said Dunn, who usually defends opponents’ best scorers. “A lot of people discredit his on-ball defense. He’s actually a really good on-ball defender.
Boylen also said LaVine has improved defensively.
“The thing I like about him in the walk-throughs and the shootarounds and our times when we drill stuff, he’s communicating better and he’s got that chatter going,” the coach said. “He’s bought into communicating and being tied in with his teammates. He’s guarded some of the better players in the league. He’s taken the challenge on those matchups.
“His goal is to become an elite two-way player and he’s really moving in that direction.”
But LaVine’s still prone to defensive lapses, such as not picking up weak-side help.
“Everyone has their mishaps,” Dunn said.
Boylen agreed that LaVine could be a better with his off-ball defense, like anyone else on the team. But he’s seeing a difference in LaVine’s reaction in those moments he makes a costly mistake.
“He gets frustrated,” Boylen said. “I think it pains him more than ever when there’s a mistake made in that situation, and I like that.”
“I think he’s an All-Star player. I’ve coached a bunch of them, been around a bunch of them.” — Jim Boylen on Zach LaVine