Bulls

At the halfway point to the All-Star Game, Zach LaVine has work to do to get in

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USA TODAY

At the halfway point to the All-Star Game, Zach LaVine has work to do to get in

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.”

The locks

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)

The should-be-ins

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.

Starters

2 guards: Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler

3 frontcourts: Giannis, Kawhi, Embiid

Reserves

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.

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Reaction to Zach LaVine's comments after 10th straight loss

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NBC Sports Chicago

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Reaction to Zach LaVine's comments after 10th straight loss

Matt Peck, David Watson and John Sabine feel the Heat after Dwyane Wade and Co. hand the Bulls their 10th straight defeat. Plus, they react to LaVine's comments on the state of the Bulls (1:30), how they feel about stars speaking out (4:55) and Matt wants a new coach next season (6:48).
How can the Bulls attract free agents to this losing culture to improve on their young core (11:35)? Plus, why does it feel like the Bulls get more criticism than the Knicks (16:02)?

The big story was D-Wade's farewell game at the United Center. Watson explains why he's pro-Wade (18:30). Peck provides the rebuttal (19:29). Finally, Watson notes that Markkanen may be struggling to find chemistry with Kris Dunn (25:10).

Don't forget, you can watch Bulls Outsiders after Bulls Postgame Live on NBC Sports Chicago following every game. You can also stream the show on Facebook Live and interact with Matt, John and David.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Kris Dunn's midrange game has disappeared, and that's spelled disaster for his overall game

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USA TODAY

Kris Dunn's midrange game has disappeared, and that's spelled disaster for his overall game

No player was happier to return home from the Bulls' 0-5 West Coast road trip than Kris Dunn.

Dunn began the trip with a nice 15-point, seven-assist performance in Portland but was a disaster in the remaining four games, averaging 7.0 points on 31.4 percent shooting and 5.0 assists.

But his struggles continued on Wednesday night against a tough Miami Heat defense. Dunn started strong but disappeared after the first quarter, finishing with 6 points on 3 of 14 shooting and 5 assists in 33 minutes. The scoring output marked the fourth time in the last five games he's scored 6 points and the shooting was his worst of the year.

"Definitely going through it," Dunn said after the game. "It's part of the NBA. It's on me to find a way to get out of it. I feel like I'm getting to my spots and it's just not knocking down right now."

Dunn is getting to his spots, but that also might be part of the problem. In his first 13 games back from a sprained MCL he averaged 14.2 points on 50 percent shooting. That included 54 percent shooting on shots 8 to 16 feet away, per NBA.com. That number led the Bulls and was actually fourth in the NBA among players attempting at least 2 of those shots per game (Gay, Clarkson, McConnell were ahead of him) and ahead of players like Kyrie Irving (51.8%), Donovan Mitchell (50%) and Derrick Rose (49%).

But since that West Coast trip began Dunn has hit a wall on those shots. He's made just 30 percent of those attempts, 56th best among those with 2 or more attempts per game. It's only a five-game sample size, compared to 13 when that shot was falling, but the larger issue is that Dunn relies so heavily on them.

Among qualified full-time starting point guards, Dunn's 1.4 3-point attempts per game are second fewest. Only Ben Simmons, who hasn't attempted a 3-pointer this year, is behind Dunn.

And among those same point guards, Dunn's 1.7 free throw attempts per game are fourth fewest. Only De'Anthony Melton, Lonzo Ball and Bryn Forbes have attempted fewer per game than Dunn.

His midrange field goal percentage was eventually going to regress. He's always looked comfortable on those floaters and stepback 12-to-15 footers, but even last year he made just 39.3 percent of those 8 to 16 foot shots. That 54 percent clip was unsustainable, and when Dunn doesn't have that going he really isn't a threat to score anywhere else on the floor.

He's averaging a team-best 13.8 drives per game, per NBA.com, which is also 14th in the NBA and puts him in the same company as players like Jeff Teague and Chris Paul. He's ahead of players such as Mike Conley, De'Aaron Fox and Damian Lillard, so aggressiveness hasn't been the issue.

Dunn's midrange shot has abandoned him, and yet he hasn't been to the free throw line in his last 81 game minutes spanning two-plus games. His last attempts came with 3 minutes left in the second quarter against the Lakers. He's also attempted just four 3-pointers (going 1-for-4) in his last 170 minutes spanning five games; in Saturday night's loss Heat guard Tyler Johnson attempted four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter (and made three of them).

He quite simply isn't a versatile scoring threat, and his one trick has disappeared. This wouldn't be as big an issue if Dunn were an exceptional passer, facilitating the offense and finding open shooters. And while Dunn certainly has had some nice passing nights - and he's inside the top 20 in assists per game despite playing in an offense without a ton of shooters -  it hasn't been nearly enough to overcome his scoring woes.

Life in today's NBA means getting scoring from the point guard position, and Dunn is failing in that regard. Perhaps his midrange touch will find itself, but the more likely scenario is Dunn needing to be more aggressive on all those drives he's taking, getting to the free throw line more and initiating some of the action on his own.

It's unlikely he'll ever become a reliable source of 3-point shooting - he's down to 32.1 percent from deep this season, same as last - but even some improvement in that area will go a long way.

"He knows he can play better. He wants to play better," Jim Boylen said after Saturday's loss. "He takes ownership of his play. That’s one thing I like about him. We gotta keep supporting him, we gotta keep coaching him. That’s what this is all about."