Zach LaVine developing into one of the NBA's most lethal shooters
Zach LaVine is matching some modern NBA greats with his outstanding form, giving the Bulls cause for optimism.
There were 124 years of All-Star experience at last weekend's showcase game between Team LeBron and Team Durant in Atlanta.
The Chicago Bulls' Zach LaVine was responsible for one of those years.
And of all the exceptional players at last weekend's event, the first-time All-Star from the Bulls is one of the more intriguing.
While several All-Stars are future Hall of Famers – the Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James, Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry and Phoenix Suns' Chris Paul just to name a few – and others are young and established stars – the Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic, Utah Jazz's Donovan Mitchell, Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons – LaVine is a veteran who is suddenly developing into a superstar.
First All-Star in the books Humbling experience. Can’t wait to be back! pic.twitter.com/VjqBVzi0g3— Zach LaVine (@ZachLaVine) March 8, 2021
In fact, over the past five weeks, no one is scoring more than LaVine, who is averaging a league-best 32.3 points since February 6, while making exactly half of his 104 three-point attempts.
He's been so spectacular he's played himself into max contract talk, although other discussions have had his name in various trade rumours if the rebuilding Bulls do not plan to sign him to an extension before his contract expires in 2022.
Now in his fourth season in Chicago after spending his first three with the Minnesota Timberwolves, LaVine has the Bulls in position to participate in the Play-In Tournament and possibly earn their first postseason berth since 2016-17.
Averaging career highs
He has the Bulls on the cusp of the playoffs behind a breakout season in which he is averaging career highs in every major category – 28.7 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game, 5.1 assists per game and 3.5 made three-pointers per game, while shooting 52.5 per cent on all field goals and 43.5 per cent on threes.
If those numbers look impressive, that is because they have only been reached once before in a single season in NBA history.
LaVine joins Stephen Curry from 2015-16 as the only players ever to average 25-plus points, five-plus rebounds, five-plus assists and three-plus made three-pointers per game, while shooting 50 per cent on field goals and 40 per cent on threes. Curry won his second MVP that season while leading the Warriors to a record 73 wins.
While Curry was already an established star at that point after winning league MVP honours and an NBA title the season prior, LaVine is unexpectedly proving that he also belongs among the upper echelon of players in the league.
He has transformed himself into one of the league's most dangerous scorers, capable of knocking down a three-pointer, pulling up and hitting a mid-range jumper or beating his man off the dribble and finishing at the rim.
Belongs at the top
Coming out of the All-Star break, his 167 dunks and layups are seventh-most in the NBA – and the most by any guard. And while the six-foot-six LaVine was also among the league leaders in dunks and layups last season (11th with 287), he is finishing at higher rate.
He is converting 64.2 per cent of his dunk and layup attempts this season after making 57.4 per cent of his attempts last season, and that increase in field goal percentage of 6.8 is the eighth largest by any player six-foot-six or shorter.
While many of the leaders among dunks and layups are big men – New Orleans Pelicans power forward Zion Williamson, Milwaukee Bucks power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jazz centre Rudy Gobert – who live in the paint, the dynamic LaVine is just as much of a threat to knock down a three-pointer.
Three-pointers rank fifth in league
His 120 made three-pointers rank fifth in the league and he is the league's only player with more than 120 dunks and layups and 90 threes.
It is one thing to have made a lot of threes but another to actually be an efficient shooter – the Sacramento Kings' Buddy Hield has made 20 more three-pointers than LaVine but has hoisted up 94 more attempts – and LaVine has refined his shooting touch and is deadly from beyond the arc.
He is hitting 43.8 per cent of his three-point attempts from the wing and his 53.8 per cent shooting from the corner ranks sixth in the league among the 103 players with at least 30 attempts.
Overall, LaVine is shooting 43.5 per cent on three-pointers, an increase of 0.55 per cent from the perimeter from last season – the eighth-largest improvement in the NBA among players with at least 150 three-point attempts this season and last.
The mid-range shot is somewhat of a lost art in the current game with the added weight given to a shot from a few feet further back beyond the arc, but it still has a place and if a shooter can connect from mid-range with regularity he becomes all the more threatening to score.
LaVine has found his touch from mid-range, making 44.6 per cent of those shots this season after hitting at a 31.9 per cent clip last season. That increase of 12.7 per cent is the sixth-largest in the NBA among 73 shooters who have attempted at least 50 mid-range shots this season and last.
Shooters shoot, and LaVine is thriving. His effective field goal percentage of 61.5 ranks second in the NBA among all guards.
Similar threat to Curry and James
His all-round offensive game is one of the most complete in the league, and opposing defences are tasked with game planning against him, giving him similar treatment as they would give Curry or James, as he is a threat to score from anywhere on the court.
Curry and James, however, have won multiple MVPs and titles. LaVine is certainly putting up MVP-type numbers, but the Bulls are not in the championship conversation.
At the moment, at least.
Chicago are only two games back of the Boston Celtics for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and are viewed as a team on the rise under first-year Bulls coach Billy Donovan. Instead of trading LaVine as was being speculated weeks ago, it is possible Chicago will be buyers at the March 25 trade deadline in their pursuit of a playoff berth.
And if LaVine continues to excel and Chicago continue to improve over the next few seasons, MVP awards and NBA titles might not be out of the question for LaVine and the Bulls.
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