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Despite Jim Boylen, Zach LaVine is thriving

LaVine is a top 20 player in fantasy basketball this year, and this is including the game he was BENCHED.

Getty Images/Pete Rogers Illustrations

Zach LaVine, scored 49 points on Saturday night against the Charlotte Hornets. The Bulls beat the Hornets on LaVine’s last second three pointer, and now the Bulls are 6-11, one game out of the playoffs, and everyone’s happy to be here.

Just kidding! The Bulls players told their coach, Genius Jim Boylen, to more or less eff off after they won. Why? Because their coach sucks, and he’s been blaming the players for the team’s disappointing start to the season. The Bulls’ executive unit announced before the season that they expected the Bulls to make the playoffs. So did I! I thought this team could be pretty solid, but injuries and poor play have them looking pretty thin.

Zach LaVine—the Dentist, that crazy whippersnapper—was benched by Genius Jim two games ago. His response was to score 49 points on 17 of 28 shooting, and 13 of 17 from three. That latter stat puts him in the company of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and No One Else In NBA History.

Is that good? Let’s drill down into some numbers.

According to the blessed website Basketball-Reference.com, there have been 603 games throughout NBA history wherein a basketballer has basketballed 49 points.

There have been 102 games wherein an NBAer has scored at least 49 points and attempted 10 or more threes. Only five of those 102 games occurred in the 20th century; 64 of those games occurred since 2012.

There have been 76 games wherein a player has attempted 17 or more threes. JR Smith “accomplished” this on 12/23/09 and scored 41 points. Then nobody did it for four years, and then JR Smith did it again in December of 2013, and he scored 19 points. That is so goddamn JR Smith. They should put that stat, and “Which soup?” on his gravestone. Anyway, LaVine took 17 threes on Saturday, and no one had taken that many threes since James Harden did it a week ago, and the week before that. In fact, 27 of those 76 games have occurred in the calendar year of 2019. Curry and Harden account for all of those games except for five: Kemba Walker, Jordan Clarkson, Paul George, D’Angelo Russell, and Zach LaVine each did it once.

In other words, LaVine’s line is pretty MFing rare.

History suggests that he won’t ever do this again. He’s a career 37.6 3PT% shooter and his True Shooting percentage is in the mid-50s (his best TS% for a season was 57.6). For context, Steph Curry has a career 43.5 3PT%, and has only shot worse than 60 TS% for a season three times in his career (four, if you include this year). Harden, meanwhile, has only shot worse than 60 TS% once since 2011, and that was 59.8 TS% in 2015-16.

LaVine isn’t a scorer like those two are (two of the greatest all time, in other words). What LaVine can get you in fantasy, though, is still very valuable. The Dentist is scoring 21+ Points Per Game this season. Less than 30 players are averaging 20+ PPG! That’s great in and of itself, regardless of whether there were also bad ratios or underwhelming counting stats in other categories. Points specialists makes great fantasy, no matter what. I love defense in real life, but this is fantasy; don’t overthink it. Points are good.

LaVine is quietly a top 20 player on ESPN basic. Despite the ridiculous situation he finds himself in, coached by a MegaMind, GM’ed by a poorly written algorithm, LaVine is still producing. He’s had more value than Kawhi so far (though, Kawhi’s sat out several games). LaVine may not be suited to be the #1 option on an offense, but he is DEFINITELY not the problem on this offense. He seems to be succeeding despite his team, rather than because of it.

Perhaps he thinks of this season as an audition for other teams, or maybe he’s telling the Bulls staff: “It’s either Genius Jim or me” by playing awesome in spite of his coach.

Here’s Chicago’s next six games: Portland, Golden State, Portland, Sacramento, Memphis, Golden State. NONE of those teams have winning records, and Portland, Sacto, and the Dubs all have injury problems, while Memphis is in tank mode. Chicago NEEDS to win four of these games. They MUST beat Golden State twice, they MUST beat Memphis. You split with Portland and/or beat the Kings without De’Aaron Fox. If the Bulls can’t do that, then something needs to change, right away. I’ll tell you one thing, though: Zach LaVine is gonna get his during that stretch of games.

One more thing: Zach LaVine is 24 years old. Does he have another offensive level? Can he get better, like most young players do? Will his coach even give him the chance to find out? Here’s hoping they do.