Zach LaVine's All-Star Bid Begins with Better Defense and More Winning

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Zach LaVine’s All-Star Bid Begins with Better Defense and More Winning

Analysis and Commentary, Chicago Bulls News

Yesterday, we took a look at what Lauri Markkanen needs to do to become the next Bulls All-Star, ultimately hoping to see a little more aggressiveness out of him (and that big body) this year. But he’s not the only – or even best – candidate from the Bulls.

As a matter of fact, Zach LaVine might be the most realistic bidder for a 2019-20 All-Star selection, especially after putting up the numbers and votes capable of reaching the big game last season.

Before we really dive in: I don’t want to linger too long on the voting aspect of this topic (it’s more important to discuss, you know, actual performance), but I do think it’s necessary to stress just how much love LaVine was, in fact, getting from fans and players around the league last season. The fan vote had LaVine as seventh-best among Eastern Conference backcourt selections. All players in front of him, and two behind him (Bradley Beal and D’Angelo Russell) made the roster. As for the player voting, LaVine came in eighth here, with all players making it ahead of him and one behind him (Russell).

So based on those numbers, alone, it certainly feels like LaVine was snubbed, but we still need to consider the media votes, where LaVine received … a big fat zero. Russell also received zero media votes but cracked the reserves list after being selected by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to replace the injured Victor Oladipo.

LaVine had the votes last season to qualify, but clearly, the performance on the court wasn’t enough. All right, so how can he change that?

First, let’s look at what he needs to continue to do…

If you watch that highlight package, it’s kind of hard to believe LaVine wasn’t an All-Star last season. But then, if you peek down at some of the scores during these games, you might start to get a better idea of why. LaVine was certainly doing everything he could last year, but ultimately, it wasn’t helping his team actually win games – and that’s key for any number of reasons.

Nevertheless, the 24-year-old averaged 23.7 points per game, with 4.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, demonstrating he has the scoring ability to be an impact player down the road.

For LaVine to see an All-Star game this season, these numbers need to ultimately stay right where they are … but he probably needs to get them in a slightly different way.

What stands out in the NBA right now is versatility. And while LaVine is athletic as they come, he isn’t as versatile as some of the All-Star guards against whom he’s competing. LaVine is scoring 45.1 percent of his points in the paint, and 55.1 percent on two-point field goals in general. Compared to several of the All-Star guards last season, you can see how LaVine’s numbers are a bit more lopsided.

For example, only Ben Simmons and Russell Westbrook were lower in percent of points off the three last season. The reason these two players can get away with it is that they’re arguably two of the best scoring guards in the paint across the league.

A similar issue presents itself for LaVine in the mid-range game (just 10 percent of his points come in the mid-range). Simmons, Lowry and Harden all fall below him, but these players make up for it either with more three-ball’s (Lowry/Harden) or being an absolute beast on the inside (Simmons).

LaVine isn’t spacing out his shot selection, and thus, not demonstrating a more versatile skillset (even though he may possess it). I know it may be weird to say with all of his flashy highlights, but I think LaVine actually needs to show a bit more creativity on the offensive end.

Personally, seeing him take more shots from the mid-range off the fadeaway would be fun; but, in today’s league, knocking down the three a little more consistently will help him out the most (offensively).

Perhaps the biggest necessary change for LaVine this season? His defense. Chances are his lackluster and lazy defensive performance is mostly what kept him off the All-Star roster last season. Admittedly, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what he needs to improve on in this area, since, ya know, it’s basically everything.

He needs to be more aggressive and use his quick feet to stay in front of opposing players. With all the athleticism he poses, it’s not hard to imagine him being a two-way player, but possibly his mindset just isn’t there.

He has a defensive rating of 112.5, which ranked eighth-worst among starting guards who player 50 or more games last season. Kemba Walker and Bradley Beal may have been able to become All-Star’s with a worse defensive rating, but we can all agree, as players, those guys are on a whole other level offensively. LaVine just needs to wake-up on the defensive end and realize he has the tools needed to be a quality defender on and off the ball.

Fortunately, he’s mindful of this: “I feel we are going to play at a lot faster pace this year, too, so getting up threes, building on what I did last year,” LaVine told Bulls.com reporter Sam Smith. “But I know I have to be a complete player, two-way player. I feel I showed flashes last year (on defense), especially on the ball. But I can be better off the ball. I’ve been saying for a lot of years I will play better defense. So now is the time. I’m one of the most athletic guys out there. So there’s no reason why I shouldn’t also be a lock down defender.” Amen.

LaVine’s All-Star potential is literally right in front of us, which is frustrating and exciting all at the same time. The next step is just winning games and putting in the extra effort to stand out among the rest. If he can do that this season, Chicago is in for a fun ride.

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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