He no longer just wins contests: Zach LaVine, a la Jordan in Chicago

The Bulls guard is going through an exorbitant moment. He averages 27 points, destroys records and the market looms: Nets, Knicks ...


It's hard to imagine LaVine on the floor. His most recognizable frames are in the air, with his wings up and in the direction of the basket. Very juicy for the (almost always) timely narrative of the NBA, basketball league and stars, but also great stories. In 1988, a still ringless Michael Jordan wowed the world with his legendary jump from the free throw line. Thirteen steps on solid ground, an inordinate momentum, and another three strides in the air. Five meters in suspension, fifty out of fifty in points and a draw in the unique personal duel with Dominique Wilkins. The public, and science, at your feet: His Airness, Air Jordan, The GOAT

So far, it is the only book-listed exception to Newton's rule, with permission from Julius Erving. But for little. It took 27 years for something to come close to him. Or someone, if they can be considered part of us. In his rookie season, Zach LaVine wanted to stop time again. Again: four steps on solid ground, momentum, and as many strides in the air. Almost at the height of the best, at the distance of half a shoe. Maximum score and, after another couple of flights, victory against Aaron Gordon in one of the most spectacular and controversial competitions in history. Second win in two years (the only one to do so alongside Nate Robinson, Jason Richardson and Jordan) and record highscore in the event (7), one ahead of Michael himself. Zack is not His Airness, nor Air Jordan nor The GOAT, nor does he resemble him, but Chicago has also wanted to host his explosion. His take off as a player, if we adapt to the semantic field.

This season, he is averaging 27 points per game, 5.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds. All of them, the peaks of its trajectory. In January, he became the first player, alongside Curry, to average 25 + 5 + 5 with percentages of 50% -45% -85% for a month. In NBA terms, take a close look at the competition's top scorers (eighth in totals, levelno on average). In Chicago terms, a brand-breaking machine. This season, he has become the first player in the franchise to score at least seven triples in consecutive games. In addition, he has been the only one capable of chaining four consecutive 30-point matches with at least 50% success since Michael Jordan did, who reached five in 1996. Likewise, with 29 points, he has also been the player to get close to the franchise's best scorer in just half a game. Jordan, in 1997, reached 30. As always, half a shoe behind. A recurring relationship, as flattering as it is dangerous, which, in any case, shows a certainty: Zach has not remained in a simple circus bouncer (a mantra that has always haunted his short career) and is already a player. And very good.

Without going into the obnoxious (and usually misguided) comparisons, the truth is that the Renton player is staring the best in the face. At least his contemporaries. This course, he has already pissed off Curry, LeBron and Kawhi. The former has been forced to reach 36 points, pushing him, at the same time, to his best version; the second, until 28 and the third at 35. All of them, defeats by the minimum: 129-128, 115-117 and 127-130. The last one, despite how hard it sounds in a fall, to remember: 45 points and 10 triples in one of the best duels, from long distance, this season (with Leonard himself). "He's having as good a year as any of the best in the league and right now he's keeping his team in games every night, even losses," PJ Tucker recently stated. To which he added: "It has improved a lot. It has arrived." Words from a benchmark shooter.

Beyond points and 3s, LaVine is leading the Bulls as a whole. Quantitatively and qualitatively. In the first section, on the offensive, all said. In the second, he is one of the most attractive players to watch; and not only because of its flights, but also because of the way it bounces and levitates. Non-sterile aesthetics. In defense, and here surprises can come for many, he is the second player on the team with the most steals (1.2 per game), the one who brings more defensive responsibility in victories (0.6 defensive win shares) and is placed in the fourth ranking in terms of plugs (0.7). Data spoiled by the fact of being the player in the squad with the most losses (3.9) and by assuming 17.6 more points conceded per 100 possessions.

With all of that, the Bulls are unable to overcome the Middle East. They don't aspire to much more either, but it pains Zach: "We have to learn how to win a basketball game when you're up by twenty points. Not much to talk about. You're up by twenty, you can't lose. I'm frustrated right now "he said after fatefully losing in overtime against Oklahoma City. The frustration of the one who sees like the wind, the one with whom he is such a friend, takes his 35 points.

The eternal dilemma between present and future Sins of youth. "This is a very hard-working group. It's a good group of guys. They want to win, but they don't know how to do it. They're learning how to do it," said Billy Donovan, the franchise coach, after the same game. A general feeling. "I think we have to learn to win," confessed Markkanen, the team's center. They are not without reason. The average age of the five players with the most minutes is less than 22 years old and, in the clutch, that usually takes its toll. A few lines above, three very clear examples.

The question, now, is in the voices that LaVine may have in his head. "If something happens, it happens. I understand that while you're on this team, you have to give it your all. I've been with everything since the first day I arrived. I really like Chicago. But if something happens, I'm not a resentful person. I understand the basketball business and I keep moving forward, "he declared in early January, when his exhibits were beginning to captivate. In his six-year career, LaVine has never played in the playoffs or been an All Star. He is only 25, but surely he already feels ready to take a qualitative leap. Coby Withe, Wendell Carter or rookie Patrick Williams are interesting projects, but they stay at that. "He was extremely happy. Several players who know him have told me what a good person and coach he is," Zach said upon learning of the arrival of Billy Donovan. "LaVine is an elite scorer, elite", Billy after the last performances of his player. They respect and trust the joint project, but for the moment it doesn't give them. Neither

As of today, LaVine has signed 39 million, to be distributed equally between this season and next. So, if a contract extension does not come, it would be free agency meat. The rumors about it are disparate. They have appeared both on the renewal side and on the handover side. At the beginning of the season, it was said that he rejected 79 million for three years, a figure that would now be significantly increased; appearing, even, the option of the maximum contract. In recent times, on the other hand, many rumors about the interest of other franchises have surfaced. Among them, a mega offer, not very feasible, by the Lakers. The Brooklyn Nets' option also looks just as complicated. In both cases, with the option of Bradley Beal on the table (although denied by the player himself). The New York Knicks, moreover, have sounded strong, being the most feasible option at the market level; now, more attractive than imaginable and with the exciting (at least, in the plot) return of Derrick Rose. Recently, in the ESPN program The Jump, the player himself claimed to be aware of all the rumors that surround him; although he claimed to be "happy" in the Bulls and with his mind set on "trying to take the team to the playoffs." The two options (renewal or transfer) could be interesting, both for the franchise and for the player. In both cases, subject to the eternal dilemma between present or future. A dilemma that, in an unbridled and ungracious NBA, is increasingly false.

Photos from as.com
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