I'm Sorry … Zach LaVine Is NOT One of the League's Top-15 Shooting Guards?

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I’m Sorry … Zach LaVine Is NOT One of the League’s Top-15 Shooting Guards?

Chicago Bulls

Earlier this morning, Eli took a look at Zach LaVine’s response to the pervasive questions about his defensive limitations and how they’ve prevented him from reaching the next level of his game (namely, an All-Star bid). And although he has shown improvements throughout the preseason – improvements I expect to translate into the 2019-2020 regular season – I can at least understand those concerns: Last season, among the 118 guards with at least 60 games played, LaVine’s 112.4 defensive rating ranked 11th worst in the NBA.

But even with poor defensive numbers, this is still a 24-year-old dunking machine, with a proven ability to get buckets – his 23.7 PPG last season ranks 9th among all guards with at least 60 games played. And only two players ahead of him in those rankings – Donovan Mitchell (22) and Devin Booker (22) – are younger. Did many of LaVine’s points come in Bulls losses? Yeah, sure. But I don’t think that’s enough to persuade me that he isn’t a proven, leading scorer (let alone won’t be one this season).

All of which is to say LaVine is getting snubbed again, this time by Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale, who didn’t even include him among the top-15 shooting guards for THIS season.

Just look at this list and tell me there’s nothing wrong:

  1. James Harden – Rockets (Age: 30)
  2. Paul George – Clippers (Age: 29)
  3. Bradley Beal – Wizards (Age: 26)
  4. Jrue Holiday – Pelicans (Age: 29
  5. Devin Booker – Suns (Age: 22)
  6. Donovan Mitchell – Jazz (Age: 22)
  7. CJ McCollum – Trail Blazers (Age: 28)
  8. Victor Oladipo – Pacers (Age: 27)
  9. D’Angelo Russell – Warriors (Age: 23)
  10. Buddy Hield – Kings (Age: 26)
  11. Gary Harris – Nuggets (Age: 25)
  12. Caris LeVert – Nets (Age: 25)
  13. Josh Richardson – Heat (Age: 26)
  14. Jaylen Brown – Celtics (Age: 22)
  15. Marcus Smart – Celtics (Age: 25)

Ignoring statistics for just a moment (we’ll get there), I can comfortably say there’s nothing particularly egregious with the top-9 players on the list. Maybe you can make an argument that LaVine’s remaining upside at age 24 – after last season’s progress, this offseason’s hard work, and the early returns of the preseason – could ultimately land him somewhere north of No. 9 by the time the season is over, but I wouldn’t and don’t hold that part against Favale right now.

Instead, it’s the last six players all finding a home on these rankings ahead of LaVine that’s up for debate. Here are a few key offensive statistics I pulled to emphasis the point, with rankings of the 15 players above (plus LaVine), stopping when we get to LaVine:

Points Per Game:

  1. Harden: 36.1
  2. George: 28.0
  3. Booker: 26.6
  4. Beal: 25.6
  5. Mitchell: 23.8
  6. LaVine: 23.7

Field Goal%

  1. Beal: 47.5%
  2. Holiday: 47.2%
  3. LaVine: 46.7%

Three-Point%

  1. Hield: 42.7%
  2. George: 38.6%
  3. McCollum: 37.5%
  4. LaVine: 37.4%

When it comes to scoring, LaVine is up there inside (or just outside) the top-5 in a few key categories, including three-point percentage. Not up there among *the top-15*, mind you, inside or near the top-5.

Sure, his 0.6 offensive rebounds per game is quite low, but it’s tied for last in this group with Booker and Oladipo, and only barely behind Russell, Smart, Harris, and Richardson (each with 0.7/game). And when it comes to defensive rebounds, LaVine’s 4.0/game rank FOURTH, behind only George (6.8), Harden (5.8), and Oladipo (5.0). Clearly, even if Favale is weighing these rankings mostly on past performance, LaVine still holds up.

Perhaps, players like Garry Harris or Marcus Smart are valued more because they’re on a winning team, but according to the article’s introduction, that doesn’t matter:

Shooting guards are evaluated as if they’re being acquired for the entire 2019-20 season. That includes the playoffs. But players do not have to be on postseason contenders to earn brownie points. The degree to which they can positively affect winning at the highest level is all that matters.

So, again, what exactly are we talking about here?

I guess LaVine needs to prove he can positively affect winning at the highest level. But I follow that concept up with one question: When has Devin Booker ever done that? Buddy Hield? Caris LeVert? Favale states he is ranking the top shooting guards for this upcoming season, and if you’re going to tell me LaVine will NOT have a better single-season resume than several names on this list, I’ll have a really hard time believing you.

Ultimately, league rankings don’t mean anything – all that matters is what happens on the court. But when I look at the backend of that list and see some straight-up role players occupying space where LaVine should easily fit, I find it hard not to stick up for Chicago’s 2019-2020 All-Star (to be). Put some respect on his name. That is all.

Elias Schuster contributed to this post.

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)


Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami is the butler to a wealthy werewolf off the coast of Wales and a writer at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter at @Michael_Cerami