Zach LaVine selected as reserve for 2021 All-Star Game in Atlanta, becoming first Chicago Bulls player to appear in the showcase since Jimmy Butler

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Jamal Collier, Chicago Tribune
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The Chicago Bulls season has quickly transformed into a backdrop for Zach LaVine’s breakout year. The star guard has elevated his game once again in 2020-21, averaging career-highs in scoring and efficiency with the Bulls in the midst of a crowded playoff field in the Eastern Conference.

On Tuesday, when the coaches vote was revealed, LaVine was rewarded for his production by being named an All-Star reserve.

In his fourth season with the Bulls, LaVine is averaging 28.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists while shooting 51.8% from the field and 43.4% from the 3-point line , all of which are career-highs. LaVine’s scoring ranks seventh in the NBA and his shooting efficiency has never been better as he ranks second in true shooting percentage (64.8%) among guards with at least a 20% usage rating, behind only Steph Curry.

LaVine became the first Bulls player to be named an All-Star since Jimmy Butler in 2016-17. The Bulls remained eager to ship Butler following that All-Star appearance, and although trading him to the Minnesota Timberwolves proved ill-advised, the return has finally netted another All-Star.

“He’s learning, he’s evolving, he’s growing and he continues to get better,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “I’d imagine all the guys, coaches and players he’s played against this year would probably have the highest of praise for him if you just look at what he’s done and how efficient he’s been. It’s pretty remarkable.”

Making the All-Star game has been a goal for LaVine, one he was vocal about last season. He backed off campaigning for himself this year, so teammates picked up the slack while peers around the league also took notice. Although he was not chosen as a starter for the game, LaVine finished third in player voting among guards in the conference, which was higher than he finished on fan or media lists.

Donovan has praised LaVine and made it clear over the past few days he believed his star guard deserved to be in the game. His teammates stumped for and endorsed his candidacy and LaVine drew notice from Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul and retired star Dwyane Wade on Twitter.

“Absolutely, I voted for Zach,” guard Ryan Arcidiacono said. “One, because I’m his teammate but also I think he’s earned that right to be an All-Star this year. I think the league has taken notice of him, both sides of the basketball. His scoring efficiency has been crazy.”

LaVine has long been criticized as an “empty-calories” scorer because his production has not led to winning. But the Bulls are playing some of their best basketball in the past few years despite inconsistent performances from their young players — especially Patrick Williams and Coby White — and injuries to their frontcourt, including Wendell Carter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr.

LaVine has also done his best to disprove labels placed on him during the Bulls’ struggles early in his career. His decision making and playmaking have improved as he cut down on turnovers this month, and his defense, while still a work in progress, is showing signs of an uptick.

“I just think there was maybe a point and time where he just thought, ‘Ok, I’m going to try and carry the team on my back offensively and try to score points,’” Donovan said. “He’s realized that there’s more to it than that. He’s trying to do a lot of the other things on both ends of the floor to impact the team and winning.”