In a league that praises it’s best bucket getters, the springy guard for the Chicago Bulls seems to get overlooked far too often.
The talk started when Zach LaVine was not among the All-Star starters. Some tried to justify it by pointing to the Chicago Bulls 20-38 record. Others tried to talk about how his numbers are empty, just stats he can put up due to being on a bad team. Both lines of thinking were directly contradicted by the group of players picked. So where is the love for Zach?
Trae Young is widely regarded as an ascending superstar. A player around whom a franchise can build for the next decade-plus. Young (who’s averaging 29 points, 9 assists, and four rebounds) is worthy of all the accolades that come his way. But his game isn’t without flaws and his Atlanta Hawks are currently 14th in the Eastern Conference at 17-42.
That record should put the former Oklahoma Sooner square in the “empty stats” category. Instead, the more common question is about the kind of help the Hawks will provide him. Or some will point out his and the overall youth of the Atlanta roster. He is a historically great scorer on a very young team. Is LaVine (still just 24) not that, save for maybe the historical part?
Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal is in a very similar boat. At 20-36 his team is in a much better position to make the playoffs (currently 9th) than Young’s Hawks or even the Bulls. But Beal has always been viewed as a strong sidekick, rarely mentioned as a lead dog. One could deduce the latter if judging by the outrage over his not being named an All-Star this year.
Folks were calling it a sham that Beal wasn’t named to a roster for the exhibition. He is, after all, averaging 30 points and six assists. This on a team that is without it’s best (maybe second best now) player for the season in John Wall. But the Wizards are just two losses ahead of the Bulls in the standings so they aren’t winning a whole lot more games than the Bulls.
Given, Earned, or Reserved?
LaVine is one of only 15 players to ever average 25/4/4 and miss the All-Star game. He joins Beal, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Kyrie Irving in making the list this season. The latter two, however, have both missed significant time. Towns has appeared in 35 contests while Irving has 20 appearances.
The Bulls have played 58 games this season and LaVine has started every one of them. Neither Young (who started in the All-Star Game) nor Beal can make that claim. It’s even more impressive given LaVine’s injury history. That history includes a torn ACL that he was still recovering from when he arrived in Chicago.
It’s easy to pick on LaVine’s lack of prowess on the less glamorous end of the floor. But even that logic is flawed. Per ESPN, Lavine has a Defensive Real Plus-Minus of -1.43, better than each of his previous two seasons in Chicago. Meanwhile, both Young (-4.66) and Beal (-3.69) rank dead last at their respective positions.
We can drag him for his lack of playmaking, especially on a team that is starved for it on a competent, consistent level. But he isn’t a natural point guard like Young. We can talk about how he’s not putting up back-to-back 50-point games like Beal. But he’s also taking fewer shots this season.
Not a Diss Song
This may all read like a Young/Beal bashing piece, but that isn’t the case at all. Again, both deserve the recognition they get and more. This would better be described as a call for answers. Why has Zach been so dismissed by the national media and fans? How many of those reasons are easily debunked simply by the treatment of similar stars around the NBA?
Perhaps a lot of it has to do with him beginning his career with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Blaming it on the small-market makes sense until you remember Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns gets a cross between the treatments Young and Beal get. That is, people love his empty stat producing, one-dimensional game.
Want to blame the organizations for which all these other players play? Cool, but have you ever heard of GarPax? It isn’t a term of endearment. The only “advantage” the Bulls organization has over the others is stability in their front office. That stability has produced very lackluster results and could be going away this offseason.
It seems there is some inherent bias against a player that turned himself from a typical hyper-athletic wing player into a three-level scoring combo guard (who’s still hyper-athletic). Are there warts to his game? Yes. But we have watched his development and maturation before our eyes. We used to love those stories. So, asking again, where’s the love for LaVine?