LaVine’s All-Star Debut Vindication for Many


Zach LaVine is no stranger to All-Star weekend. He won the 2015 and 2016 Slam Dunk Contests. But unfortunately for the 25-year-old, he’s never been selected as an All-Star– until now.

Now, averages of 28.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game (all career highs) ensure the Chicago Bulls’ guard will finally feature in the league’s premier exhibition game.

But unlike many players, LaVine’s All-Star appearance isn’t simply a celebration of, or a reward for, a stellar season – it’s vindication.


When LaVine was drafted 13th overall out of UCLA by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2014, he was seen as a project.

His major asset was his athleticism, which helped him become one of college basketball’s most exciting open-court dunkers. He was also comfortable moving or cutting off the ball. He could shoot off the dribble or off screens, but settled for jump shots far too often. This impacted LaVine’s efficiency, as when his jump shot wasn’t falling, he struggled to score. He didn’t attack the rim enough for a player with his physical tools.

In fact, LaVine seemingly tried to stay away from contact. This along with his lack of size and strength concerned scouts. He wasn’t seen as a tough player, and LaVine’s defensive effort wasn’t consistent. He relied on his athleticism far too much on that end of the court.

Plus, as he couldn’t create for his teammates, or pass out of double teams, LaVine tended to disappear from games.


In LaVine’s fourth season in Chicago, he’s improved in every area that scouts classed as weaknesses.

Draft profiles had LaVine’s weight listed at around 180lbs. He’s now listed at 200lbs. He no longer avoids contact at the basket, as he’s more than happy to posterize any rim protector, finally using his athleticism in the way scouts envisioned.


Attacking the rim more often has led to an increase in scoring efficiency. LaVine no longer settles for the shots he took in college, as he makes 52.5 percent of his field goals and 43.5 percent of his three-pointers (again, career highs). This season he’s attempting over five free throws per game, making 85.7 percent of them – another career high – which has helped him enter the NBA’s top 10 in True Shooting percentage (65.3 percent).

For example, LaVine only shot 32.1 percent from the field, but still managed to attempt and make 10 free throws against the 76ers on February 19th. The Bulls ultimately lost 105-112, but LaVine showed he’s still dangerous when his jump shot isn’t falling, ending the game with a team-high 30 points.

LaVine’s defense has taken a giant leap forward. Bigger wings no longer bully him as much as they once did, but LaVine’s biggest improvements have come off the ball. He now rotates properly, fights through screens, and knows how and when to help on drives. His defense can’t be criticized in the same way it once was – even if it’s not as good as some say, it certainly isn’t as bad as others make it out to be.

Often carrying the ball up the court, LaVine has also improved his playmaking. He now creates shots for teammates, finding them spotting up for three-pointers when driving or passing to the roll man. Against the Detroit Pistons on February 17th, LaVine was constantly doubled down the stretch – but he always made the right pass to the open man, which kept the ball moving and helped the Bulls close out the game.


In 2017, The Bulls wanted to give then head coach Fred Hoiberg a chance to build his own team. As such, Jimmy Butler, who clashed with Hoiberg in the past, was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves along with Chicago’s 16th overall pick in that year’s draft. In return, the Bulls received the seventh pick (which became Lauri Markkanen), Kris Dunn and LaVine.

In an age when NBA trades need clear winners and losers, questions were asked of Chicago’s then front office – especially Gar Forman and John Paxson.

Butler was still good enough to have a team built around him. LaVine had recently torn his ACL. Dunn could defend but was limited offensively. Markkanen was a rookie. Many thought the Bulls should have pushed for Andrew Wiggins instead of LaVine. But Wiggins was a former Rookie of the Year, so Minnesota didn’t want to lose him.

However, Wiggins (and Karl-Anthony Towns) didn’t mesh with Butler, and Butler was eventually traded to Philadelphia. Wiggins, the piece the Timberwolves were desperate to keep, never lived up to expectations and was traded to Golden State.

Although Dunn is now an Atlanta Hawk and Markkanen’s future with the Bulls is uncertain, Chicago still has Zach LaVine. And Zach LaVine is an All-Star. It may have taken four seasons, but it’s now clear that the Bulls won the trade.


The Bulls couldn’t keep Jim Boylen. Hoiberg’s successor as head coach was never popular with fans, or (reportedly) with players. The new front office, including the new executive VP of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas, fired Boylen before the start of this season and replaced him with Billy Donovan.

After someone as divisive as Boylen, the new regime had to select the correct coach. LaVine’s All-Star season proves that Donovan was the right hire.

It makes sense that LaVine’s career year has come in Donovan’s first season in Chicago. Donovan has had success coaching guards (that included Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) in the past. The new offense enables LaVine to succeed, putting him in actions that allow him to shoot off the dribble or come off screens and attack the rim. Also, LaVine’s Usage Rate of 31.1 percent (14th highest in the NBA) shows how involved and important he’s become in Donovan’s system.

This has come in a year where LaVine is attempting to lead the Chicago Bulls to their first playoff appearance since 2017. This would cap off what’s promising to be a remarkable personal season.

In a seven-year NBA career that’s seen serious injury and six different head coaches, a first All-Star nod has to feel satisfying for Zach LaVine. But it also proves that every decision he’s made, and every decision made for him, were definitely the right ones.

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About Charlie Liptrott

Charlie writes about the Chicago Bulls, and is a UK based NBA fan and freelance sports journalist.

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