Barkley: LaVine should be All-Star starter over Trae


Charles Barkley was one of the Chicago Bulls' most vocal critics during the moribund rebuilding years.

But, with the team's fortunes flipped in 2021-22, he stumped for Zach LaVine Thursday night, shortly after it was announced that Trae Young won the starting backcourt spot next to DeMar DeRozan in the Eastern Conference All-Star bracket.

"I like Trae a lot, but I thought it should have been Zach LaVine," Barkley said on the TNT broadcast. "I thought two Bulls. I mean, no disrespect, the Hawks are the 12 seed. LaVine and DeMar DeRozan should have been the starting backcourt, in my opinion. I like Trae, not trying to hate on him, that's just my personal opinion."

Indeed, Young's Hawks sit 22-25 and two spots out of the last play-in spot as of this writing. LaVine's Bulls, meanwhile, are 30-17 and a half game out of first in the East.

The irony is LaVine's losing teams have been used as a mark against his reputation for years, even as he's ascended individually on an annual basis. And it's not as if the latter trend has changed. Yes, taking one less field-goal attempt per game than in 2020-21, his scoring average has dipped from 27.4 to 24.9. But his efficiency (48.8 percent field goal and 40.4 percent 3-point shooting on nearly 30 percent usage) hasn't suffered, and his marked improvements as a defender and playmaker have contributed to winning basketball.

Young has certainly had a stellar and deserving season in his own right, averaging 27.7 points, 9.3 assists and buoying a second-ranked Atlanta offense.

But LaVine has the vote of his peers, which has always meant the most to him. The Bulls guard finished third — behind DeRozan and Young — in the fan and media vote, but second in the player vote, accruing 73 votes to Young's 46.

DeRozan, while taking care to not disrespect Young, certainly would have preferred his full-time backcourt running mate to start the exhibition alongside him.

"Nothing against Trae, Trae is definitely All-Star. I felt Zach should’ve been in there as well. You see it from the players’ reaction," DeRozan said, citing the player vote. "Nothing against Trae at all. But I wish he (LaVine) would’ve got in there. I think that would’ve been dope to have the both of us in there as starters. No question he’ll be in there next week. But as far as starters, that would’ve been something cool."

DeRozan is right to call LaVine a shoo-in when the coach's vote for All-Star reserves is announced on Feb. 3 (Young would have been too if the roles were reversed). That will be LaVine's second career All-Star selection.

And, who knows? When LeBron James and Kevin Durant draft their respective All-Star teams on Feb. 8, perhaps LaVine and DeRozan will be wearing the same threads in Cleveland on Feb. 20.

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