With the Chicago Bulls nearly out of the Eastern Conference playoff race, the time has come to analyze the future of the squad, along with some of the individual players themselves.
While there will be plenty of time to discuss what Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley should do to improve the team, there is one discussion that should take precedence: What are the chances Zach LaVine plays in the Olympics?
The Bulls have had just one representative on an Olympic team this century (Jimmy Butler, 2016), so a Bull playing in Tokyo this summer would be a big deal.
But does LaVine even have a shot? He has had a career year, but missed some games recently. There are players at his position that are shoe-ins to make the team, but there are bound to be some that opt out, either due to the pandemic or the fact the Olympic tournament begins just three days after a potential NBA Finals Game 7.
After looking at LaVine's competition and the players ahead of him on the depth chart, it seems LaVine may have a better chance than many think.
How Many Spots Are Available To LaVine?
Let’s start by looking at the 2016 roster, specifically at its makeup and how many of the 12 roster spots were designated to positions LaVine could play.
You could make the argument there are 7-8 guard/forward players on that roster to which LaVine has a comparable skill set. Even though there is a different head coach for this team, let's assume the trend holds and there are eight spots LaVine could realistically take.
Who Are the Shoe-Ins? Who Are LaVine's Top Competitors?
Based on the list of players USA Basketball is considering for the 2020 team, the shoe-ins are Jimmy Butler, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Damian Lillard. It’s important to note that Harden, James, Leonard, and Lillard chose to not play for the team in 2016.
When looking at the top competitors LaVine faces outside of those shoe-ins, I chose from the group of invited players who have a similar PER to LaVine (21.3). The five players I came up with are Bradley Beal, DeMar DeRozan, Paul George, Donovan Mitchell, and Jayson Tatum.
I considered Trae Young and Chris Paul, but since they are both true point guards, I eliminated them from this competition. Plus, if either will be on the team, Irving, Curry, or Lillard would have to withdraw. That is certainly possible, but I don’t see Popovich bringing more than three point guards.
What Are the Stats?
To set the table, there are eight spots for LaVine to get on the roster and there are already eight shoe-ins. LaVine is already on the outside looking in.
But, let’s continue by looking at some of the key stats between LaVine and the rest of his competition:
All stats from Basketball-Reference.com
*Based on weighted factoring of each statistical category ranking
**Numbers in parentheses denote league ranking for that specific statistic
While I included Donovan Mitchell in this analysis, his ankle injury is likely to ruin his chances of being chosen for the Olympic roster. Therefore, he is eliminated.
You can see I bolded and italicized the leader for each statistical category. However, when weighing each category based on its perceived importance relative to others, LaVine ranks third among the group of six, led by his effective field goal and true shooting percentages.
Now, I’m personally going to rank LaVine fourth in this group. Why? First, I do think Beal and George would surpass LaVine and be offered a spot on the team before the Bulls guard.
Both players, especially George, have higher star power than LaVine and have been invited to USA Basketball Olympic camps before, with George having played on the 2016 team. Furthermore, both Beal and George rank slightly higher than LaVine in PER.
I’m also going to put DeRozan ahead of LaVine. The Spurs lead-man has a higher PER and also leads all players in multiple win-shares-related categories. DeRozan was also on the team in 2016.
Who Will Opt Out?
After taking into consideration the shoe-ins, and the fact LaVine ranks fourth among the above group of players, LaVine has three players in front of him on the depth chart before he gets an invite to the Olympic squad.
That said, some of the players ahead of him will surely opt out. First, think of players with histories of dropping out: Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James. LeBron may want one more crack at a gold medal, so I’ll keep him in for now, but I’ll assume Kawhi is out.
James Harden certainly won’t go to Japan, as he is most likely out for the season with a hamstring injury and I doubt Kevin Durant will go as he’s going to err on the side of caution with his achilles. That brings the opt-out total to three.
This Olympics is unique because one must consider the scheduling of the NBA Finals, where a potential Game 7 would fall just three days before Team USA’s first game. Any remaining players on contenders will be more likely to opt out, so let’s assume all players on the top three teams in each conference are out. That makes Kyrie Irving and Paul George the fourth and fifth opt-outs.
So? What Are LaVine's Chances?
There are five players ahead of LaVine that could easily opt out of the Olympics for a variety of reasons. You also have to consider the fact LaVine will most likely have a longer rest than many of the other players mentioned, as the Bulls will most likely not make the playoffs.
In my opinion, as long as LaVine stays healthy and doesn't choose to opt-out himself, the Bulls leading scorer has a realistic shot of playing in Tokyo. My prediction: Zach LaVine will be wearing the red, white, and blue come July.