The Bulls will play 58 games before All-Star weekend, and to date they’ve played 28. That means we’re just about at the halfway point. The Bulls’ last All-Star was Jimmy Butler in 2017, though there’s a chance they could have another one take the floor on Feb. 17 in Charlotte. Here’s a look at where Zach LaVine’s chances stand in the Eastern Conference midway through the season’s “first half.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, Milwaukee: He’s the frontrunner for league MVP and given his international appeal has a chance to be the top vote-getter in the entire league. He’s an easy selection to make his third consecutive appearance.
Kawhi Leonard, F, Toronto: Oh right, that’s what a healthy Leonard looks like. Past his hamstring injury that cost him an entire year in San Antonio, Leonard is tearing up the East and has the Raptors sitting atop the conference. His recent play has him in the MVP conversation. He’s in.
Kemba Walker, G, Charlotte: He’s having a career year in this, a contract year, averaging 25.8 points without the real help of a second option around him. He’s been outstanding and consistent all year.
Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia: Another year, another step forward. Embiid has once again lifted his game to new heights in his third year, averaging a remarkable 26.3 points and 13.1 rebound per game. Since 2000, only Shaq, Kevin Love and Giannis Antetokounmpo (this year) have reached those numbers.
Jimmy Butler, G, Philadelphia: We thought it’d be in the West, but a midseason trade to Philadelphia will put Butler back on the East All-Star team for a fifth straight year. Even with his baggage he’s one of the league’s best.
The really safe bets
Kyle Lowry, G, Toronto: He’s struggled of late but Lowry is still the league leader in assists and the floor general of a dominant Raptors team. He should make his fifth straight All-Star appearance.
Blake Griffin, F, Detroit: He’d be the frontrunner for Comeback Player of the Year if the NBA handed it out. Griffin is averaging career highs in points and 3-pointers and has a chance to be the 11th player ever to average 25-9-5.
Nikola Vucevic, C, Orlando: This one may surprise you, but go look at his numbers. He’s averaging 20 and 11 and is one of eight players averaging 1 steal, 1 block and 1 3-pointer per game. He’s also shooting .541/.400/.840. He’s been incredible.
Ben Simmons, G, Philadelphia: Politics might have left him off last year’s team, but don’t expect that this time around. Simmons is unique, efficient and a budding star. He won’t get left off two years in a row.
Andre Drummond, C, Detroit: The Pistons’ big man is on pace to become the first player since Moses Malone in 1983 to average 18 points and 15 rebounds on 50 percent shooting. In fact, only six players have ever done it and they’re all in the Hall of Fame (Abdul-Jabbar, Bellamy, Chamberlain, Lucas, Malone, McAdoo)
Victor Oladipo, G, Indiana: A knee injury has slowed him down some but Oladipo remains one of the best two-way players in the East. His numbers are down slightly from last year’s Most Improved Player campaign but he’s still one of the conference’s best.
Kyrie Irving, G, Boston: It was an ugly start for the C’s point guard but Irving has righted the ship. Since Oct. 30 he’s averaging 24.4 points on 51 percent shooting and 43 percent from deep.
That’s 12 names. Here’s how the prospective All-Stars from the East would look. Yes, there’s a draft and these players will be mixed up, but the pool that the captains pick from will still come from this format.
2 guards: Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler
3 frontcourts: Giannis, Kawhi, Embiid
2 guards reserves: Lowry, Simmons
3 frontcourt reserves: Griffin, Vucevic, Drummond
2 wildcards: Irving, Oladipo
In this author’s opinion, LaVine has work to do. The two Wild Cards, Irving and Oladipo, don’t have flawless resumes this season. There’s certainly an argument that LaVine has had the better season of the three, especially given how much he’s been asked to do for the injury-ridden Bulls.
But he won’t get the seniority edge, and the Bulls’ 6-22 record won’t do him any favors (just ask Devin Booker last year). LaVine has also been in a funk the last month or so, though he’s put together two nice outings and (we think?) is now on the same page with new head coach Jim Boylen.
His counting numbers will decrease naturally with Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn in the fold, but perhaps his efficiency will increase, pushing the Bulls to a handful more wins. That’d give LaVine some notoriety and perhaps push him toward his first All-Star appearance at age 23.