Bulls Insider

Donovan stumps for LaVine to receive All-Star selection

/ by K.C. Johnson
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
Bulls Insider

Billy Donovan left little doubt on the subject.

"Zach LaVine is deserving of being an All-Star," the Bulls coach said late Saturday.

Donovan declared this following yet another LaVine masterpiece, a 38-point demonstration of efficiency that featured 15-for-20 shooting and led the Bulls to a 122-114 victory over the Kings at the United Center.

"When you look at players that are All-Stars, you are saying they are playing at a high level individually and they are also raising the level of the team," Donovan said. "I think Zach has done that."

The All-Star reserves get announced Tuesday. They are voted on by coaches. At this point, the surprise would be if LaVine does not make his first All-Star game. Such is the level of his play -- at both ends.

LaVine posted his 15th 30-point game and seventh in eight games. He did so by not settling for jumpers and repeatedly attacking the rim, shooting 9-for-9 in the restricted area. And he continued to display defensive growth through improved engagement, particularly in his ability to navigate screens and stay active off the ball.

"I’m just working. I’ve gotten a lot better with it, especially just awareness," LaVine said of his defensive improvement. "I’ve always been able to guard the ball. Athletically, I don’t feel like it’s a lot of guys who are more athletic than me that’s going to beat me off the dribble. But just being locked into coverages, watching film and knowing what the other team is going to do and the player that you’re guarding, try to take away what they do well. You’re not always going to be good at it, or it’s not always going to work. But at least just try to make him do something that he’s not good at."


LaVine finished with three steals, his third straight game with multiple steals. He gamely worked his matchup against speedy and talented guard De'Aaron Fox.

LaVine still may not be confused with a consistently plus-defender, but he passes the eye test as far as engagement and activity.

"A lot of it is learning. Everybody learns at their own pace," he said. "It could be system. It could be the players around you. And then for me personally, you get to a point where you’re tired of losing. And you have to figure out you can’t just blame other people. You have to look at yourself and figure out what you have to do better to help. I’m with all that. I have all the capabilities to be a really good two-way player. And I want to show that."

Given the responsibility he carries offensively, LaVine's improvement at the defensive end is even more noteworthy. He also doesn't take games off, playing 36 minutes to finish a back-to-back set in his 29th game.

Yep, that's all that the Bulls have played.

"I play through a lot of injuries that aren’t always on the report. You’re never really playing at 100 percent," LaVine said. "For me personally, after I came off the (torn) ACL, I’d never been a guy who missed a lot of games. And I feel like when you have that type of injury, you get a rep of being injury-prone. And that’s never been me.

"Each year, I try to fight through some things and make sure I'm playing. Even last year, I got hit with a little bit of a quad injury at the end and I was trying to play through it. So this year, as long as I can be effective and not hurt the team, I’m going to play. It means a lot just to be there for your team. I think it shows a little bit of your demeanor and how much it means to you."

Playing at the elite and efficient level that LaVine is, and with the attitude, mindset and commitment he possesses, no wonder Donovan is stumping for his guard's All-Star bid. No wonder LaVine's sixth coach in seven NBA seasons continues to sing his praises.


"It’s growing," LaVine said of his relationship with Donovan. "I’m open with him, and I told him to be open with me. We’ve had ongoing dialogue. We text. We have phone calls. We have meetings. It’s been good. He wants the best out of you and he challenges you. I like that. I think I respond well to that. I appreciate him and I support him."

The feeling is mutual.

"I attribute it to him," Donovan said. "Ever since I came here, everything he's wanted to do has been about winning... And I think he wants to be told what are the things that's he's got to do to take himself to a different level because he hasn't won.

"I do think, in fairness to him, some of it's been circumstantial. With having six different coaches, it's hard. But I think he wants to take a step, 'OK, what can I do?' Because I think there was a time in his career that he thought, 'OK, I'll just carry the team on offense and I'll just try to score 30 or 40 every night and that will get us over the hump.' And I think he realized that that's not the answer.

"He's got to be a two-way player. He's got to lead by example by every day in practice putting forth a great effort where he can hold himself to a high standard, which enables him to hold his teammates to a high standard. I think these are all the things that he has wanted to do. For him, doing what he's doing this year in terms of these numbers and his career-best and all those things, I think it's a great compliment to the commitment that he's made to the game. To himself and to his teammates."

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