NBA All-Star voting begins Christmas Day, with starters to be announced on TNT on Jan. 23 and the network revealing coaches’ picks for reserves a week later.
In other words, Zach LaVine’s candidacy for the Feb. 16 All-Star game is about to shift into overdrive.
Ever since the NBA tabbed Chicago to host its first All-Star game since 1988, the local drumbeat for Bulls’ participation in the big-boy game began. Sure, everybody wants to see LaVine commit to the dunk contest as part of Saturday night’s extravaganza.
But the Bulls haven’t had an All-Star since trading away Jimmy Butler in June 2017 after the third of his three straight appearances. So what are LaVine’s chances?
After a slow start for both his own game and team success, LaVine is putting up All-Star numbers of late. In December, he’s averaging 26.1 points while becoming more adept at decision-making and closing situations.
Overall, he’s averaging 23.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists and shooting a career-best 39.5 percent on 3-pointers.
"I expect myself to play that way," LaVine said. "It should be this way. Obviously last year I got off to a really hot start with all those (30-point) games. I feel like I've been more efficient, at least in this stretch. I'm just reading the game. Obviously, you have good and bad games. But the way you can affect the game I feel I've done a good job of that."
Will it be enough?
One wild card will be to see if Kyrie Irving repeats as a starter. He hasn’t played for the Nets since Nov. 14 after injuring his shoulder. Fan voting, for which Irving likely will fare well, accounts for 50 percent of the starters’ nods, with 25 percent each determined by player and media voting.
If Irving is voted a starter and can’t play in the game, that would open up another reserve spot. A reserve would slide into Irving’s slot and Commissioner Adam Silver would name an injury replacement for Irving.
Coaches vote for two guards, three frontcourt players and two wild card players for their reserve selections.
Kemba Walker joined Irving as a starter last season and, with averages 22.6 points, 5.4 assists and 4.1 rebounds, is a lock to be a repeat selection either as starter or reserve after leaving the Hornets for the Celtics.
Here are other locks: Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, 76ers center Joel Embiid and Heat forward Butler. If 76ers guard Ben Simmons, Raptors forward Pascal Siakam and Wizards guard Bradley Beal aren’t locks, they’re close to it.
There is typically momentum for previous All-Star selections, and while Beal plays for the 9-20 Wizards, the two-time All-Star’s monster numbers of 28.3 points and 6.8 assists are even more impressive when it’s considered how much defensive attention he draws.
One of Butler or Siakam likely will slide into the starting spot created when Kawhi Leonard left the Raptors to join the Clippers in the Eastern Conference.
One reserve from last season — Pacers guard Victor Oladipo — definitely won’t make it because he hasn’t played due to injury. Two others, Magic center Nikola Vucevic and Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, have played well but also missed significant time to injuries. And a last one, Blake Griffin, has been injured and ordinary.
That leaves LaVine in a crowded field of potential reserves that includes Hawks guard Trae Young; Heat center Bam Adebayo; Bucks forward Khris Middleton; Celtics forwards Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown; Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis; Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon; Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie; Pistons center Andre Drummond; and Raptors guards Lowry and Fred VanVleet.
Here is where it’s important for the Bulls to build on their recent success, even as their schedule toughens. Coaches typically reward winning teams with their reserve selections, which obviously would benefit all of the above except for Young, Dinwiddie and Drummond. And Dinwiddie’s advanced statistics are currently better than LaVine’s.
Hypothetically, let’s assume the East starters are Simmons, Walker, Antetokounmpo, Butler and Embiid. That leaves lock or near-lock reserves of Siakam and Beal. It’s almost certain the Bucks’ and Celtics’ winning will warrant a second All-Star. So add Middleton and Tatum.
Hypothetically, that leaves three spots to fight for from LaVine, Young, Brown, Sabonis, Brogdon, Dinwiddie, Lowry, VanVleet, Drummond and Adebayo.
LaVine is doing his part to make his first All-Star game. But he has plenty of competition.
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