NBA

Bulls All-Star Zach LaVine developing into one of the NBA's most dangerous shooters

By Sports Desk March 11, 2021

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

Related items

  • NBA playoffs 2021: Clippers win first ever Conference Finals game as George helps reduce series deficit NBA playoffs 2021: Clippers win first ever Conference Finals game as George helps reduce series deficit

    Paul George dominated as the Los Angeles Clippers celebrated their first ever win in the Western Conference Finals after overcoming the Phoenix Suns 106-92 in Game 3.

    Featuring in the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, the Clippers found themselves in a 2-0 hole against the second-seeded Suns heading into Thursday's clash in Los Angeles.

    Even in the ongoing absence of superstar Kawhi Leonard (knee), George picked up the slack with a 27-point and 15-rebound double-double – which included a stunning half-court buzzer-beater in the third period – to lift the Clippers and help reduce the series deficit to 2-1.

    Entering the contest at Staples Center following back-to-back games on the road, George had scored at least 20 points in all 15 games this postseason.

    The latest performance saw George eclipse LeBron James' run of 15 consecutive games (in 2016) with 20-plus points in the playoffs – Kevin Durant is the only other active player to achieve the feat in the postseason (20 straight in 2012 and 21 in a row in 2018).

    The Clippers – who are the first team all-time to be down 2-0 three times in a single postseason – outscored the visiting Suns 34-21 in the third quarter to move clear.

    Reggie Jackson added 23 points for the Clippers, while Ivica Zubac (15 points and 16 rebounds) finished with a double-double of his own.

    George and Zubac became the first set of team-mates to each tally 15-plus points and 15-plus rebounds in a playoff showdown since James (28 points and 15 rebounds) and Kevin Love (15 points and 21 rebounds) in 2017.

    Suns veteran Chris Paul returned from the league's health and safety protocol and posted 15 points and 12 assists.

    Paul became the 13th player in NBA history with 1,000 playoff assists in the losing effort.

    It was a tough outing for star team-mate Devin Booker, who was just five-for-21 shooting as he finished with 15 points in a team-high 40 minutes.

     

    Hawks at Bucks

    Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks will look to bounce back against the Atlanta Hawks in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday. Trae Young and the Hawks claimed the opener in Milwaukee.

  • Durant calls out Pippen after Bulls great says Nets star 'doesn't have what LeBron has' Durant calls out Pippen after Bulls great says Nets star 'doesn't have what LeBron has'

    Kevin Durant fired back at Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen's criticism following the Brooklyn Nets' Eastern Conference semi-finals exit in the NBA playoffs.

    Chicago Bulls great and six-time NBA champion Pippen gave a blunt assessment of superstar Durant, who was unable to guide the Nets to the Conference Finals.

    Durant averaged a career-high 34.3 points, a career-best 9.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists in this season's playoffs, but the second-seeded Nets fell to the Milwaukee Bucks after overtime in Game 7 in the second round.

    His 48 points in the series decider were the most scored in a Game 7 in NBA history, but that did not spare him of criticism from Pippen – who referenced Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James.

    "He needs to learn how to utilise his teams," Pippen, who played alongside Michael Jordan in Chicago, told GQ. "He has to learn how to set up his team-mates to be better. That's it. As great as he is, there's a [cap] to his [talent].

    "He could've easily made that three, killed them in regulation, and we wouldn't have been talking about this. But I knew going into overtime, he wasn't gonna make it. He was taking all the shots. You done played the whole game, bro! And they've got guys physically wearing you down. You gonna lose."

    Pippen added: "KD can score better than LeBron, probably always have been able to. But has he surpassed LeBron? Naw. He tried to beat the Milwaukee Bucks instead of utilising his team. You see what I'm saying?

    "LeBron James would've figured out how to beat them and he wouldn't have been exhausted and he may not have taken the last shot. But LeBron ain't KD, and KD ain't LeBron. KD is a shooter, a scorer. But he doesn't have what LeBron has."

    Durant, who shouldered the load in the Nets-Bucks series as James Harden struggled with a hamstring injury and Kyrie Irving missed time due to an ankle problem, called out Pippen on social media.

    A two-time champion, two-time Finals MVP and 2014 NBA MVP, Durant wrote via Twitter: "Didn't the great Scottie Pippen refuse to go in the game for the last second shot because he was in his feelings his coach drew up the play for a better shooter??

    "This guy Scott also wanted to enjoy his summer so he chose to rehab during the season lol yo @ScottiePippen THEY FOLLOWED PHIL [JACKSON], NOT YOU!!!"

  • Belgium have 'unbelievable' desire to win Euro 2020 ahead of clash v Ronaldo's Portugal – Alderweireld Belgium have 'unbelievable' desire to win Euro 2020 ahead of clash v Ronaldo's Portugal – Alderweireld

    Toby Alderweireld said star-studded Belgium have an "unbelievable" desire to win Euro 2020 as they prepare to face defending champions Portugal in the round of 16.

    Belgium and Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal will go head-to-head in Seville for a place in the quarter-finals on Sunday.

    Number one in the world rankings, Belgium have never won a major tournament, having finished runners-up at the European Championship in 1980, while the Red Devils finished third at the 2018 World Cup.

    Belgium have reached the knockout stages in each of their last five appearances at a major tournament (Euros and World Cup), progressing to the semi-final in their previous one at Russia 2018. Their defeat to eventual winners France three years ago is the only one of their last 10 games at major tournaments that they have failed to win (W9).

    Boasting a golden generation, including Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Youri Tielemans and Thibaut Courtois, veteran defender Alderweireld is bullish about Belgium's chances.

    "I want to see it differently," Alderweireld replied when asked if Portugal have an advantage given their 2016 success. "I can't talk about how they feel or how they think, the only thing I can say is that we are very hungry.

    "The desire is unbelievable with us to achieve big things for our country and for this team. So we will do everything in our powers to beat them."

    On whether this Belgium generation can be the one to deliver a trophy, Tottenham's Alderweireld said: "We will do everything in our powers to become that generation. I think we have already shown that we can beat any team if we have a good day.

    "But we know it is going to be a tough opponent, but we believe in our ideas and in our quality."

    Belgium will come up against superstar Ronaldo, who equalled Ali Daei for the most international goals in men's football with his 109th following a two-goal haul in Portugal's 2-2 draw against France.

    But Alderweireld and Belgium are wary of more than just Ronaldo, the 32-year-old adding: "I think they are a very difficult team to beat. They have a lot of quality, the team is very compact, they know how to play big games in big tournaments.

    "A lot of experience as well, so I think we have to be top to beat them. Of course everyone talks about Cristiano Ronaldo, we know he is one of the best in the world. But not only him, I think they have a lot of quality around him as well who create chances for him, So again we have to be top to beat them."

    Belgium have only failed to score in two of their last 58 games under head coach Roberto Martinez, averaging exactly three goals per game in this stretch of fixtures (174 in total).

    The two games they have been shut out came in the 2018 World Cup semi-final against France (0-1), and in their most recent meeting with Portugal – a 0-0 draw in June 2018.

    Belgium's victory over Finland last time out marked their ninth win at the World Cup and Euros combined under Martinez, with the Spaniard now holding the outright managerial record for major tournament wins with the Red Devils.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.