When the Bulls trade Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves back in 2017, Lauri Markkanen (the No. 7 overall pick in the draft) was considered to be more of the centerpiece of the deal than Zach LaVine (the superhuman dunker coming off an ACL injury). Don’t get it twisted, LaVine was still an exciting young talent, but a future All-Star worthy of a max extension? Perhaps, not so much.
Of course, since then, LaVine has exceeded just about every reasonable expectation that has come his way.
From dunk contest champion, to those thirteen 3-pointers, to averaging 27.7 points per game, to winning an Olympic Gold Medal, LaVine continues to break through that initially projected ceiling, and HoopsHype’s provided another reminder of that this weekend.
After ranking the league’s top point guard’s last week, the site released their 2021-22 top-22 shooting guards, and rounding out the Top-5 is the Bulls’ franchise cornerstone, Zach LaVine.
10. RJ Barrett
9. Caris LeVert
8. Klay Thompson
7. CJ McCollum
6. Shai Gilgerous-Alexander
5. Zach LaVine
4. Donovan Mitchell
3. Devin Booker
2. Bradley Beal
1. James Harden
Fans will be fans, so I’m not shocked to already see a handful of get-off-my-lawn fist waves at these rankings. But I’m actually pretty content with where LaVine is slotted. Today’s NBA is a scorer’s league, and many of the top talents play along the perimeter. To be considered the 5th-best talent at the shooting guard position is nothing to complain about, especially when we consider the one very important thing every player in front of LaVine has in common.
Mitchell, Booker, Beal, and Harden all have playoff experience under their belt. Mitchell is just 24-years-old with 33 playoff games to show for it. Even more importantly, he was arguably the best Jazz player in each of those playoff games. Booker may not have the same kind of postseason volume to flaunt, but he is coming off a trip to the NBA Finals where he averaged 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game. Do I think Booker is leaps and bounds better than LaVine? No. In fact, LaVine was the more efficient scorer last season, particularly from behind the arc where he shot 41.0 percent in 2020-21 on 8.2 attempts per game (Booker shot 34.0 percent on 5.5 attempts). But winning matters.
Booker may have gotten some much-needed help from Chris Paul, but he showed last season he could score similar numbers as he always had on a championship-caliber team. Beal has never come that close to reaching the mountain top, but he finished as the league’s top scorer a year ago and fell just behind Steph Curry this season. When it comes to pure bucket-getter, Beal has proven time and again he can get the job done.
Speaking of which, “time” and “again” are two words that represent how LaVine can surpass some of these players moving forward. The All-Star has used his time wisely to add areas to his game each season of his career. If he can improve his defense and flash more off-ball skill on the offensive end, he’ll creep even closer to Booker. Meanwhile, if LaVine can score as effortlessly at all three levels as he did this season again, he’ll inch toward Beal.
That’s the thing: LaVine might be 5th right now, but the case could be made that not much space separates him and the next three (Harden is on an island of his own), particularly if he can continue to show development and consistency. And, hey, if he does have a leg up in one area, it could be in the efficiency column. LaVine had a career-high 60.0 effective field goal percentage last season, which ranked in the 90th percentile and was significantly higher than his competition (Booker was next closest at 53.4 percent, ranking only in the 56th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass).
Still, everything comes with winning, so while we can come to LaVine’s defense all we want, we can also hold him and the Bulls organization to that higher standard. After all, LaVine does.
“I want to be a winner,” LaVine told the Chicago Tribune’s Jamal Collier before the Olympics in July. “Everything will come with winning. And the better I get, the better I make my team, the more accolades you get individually, so all that stuff will come. But I felt good about myself because of the way I played, not because somebody told me I’ve got or I achieved. I know how good I am and I know where I want to be at.”