Bulls Insider

LaVine calls Thad Young MVP of the Bulls, and he has a point


Zach LaVine had just posted his 12th 30-point game of the season, fourth in the league behind heavy hitters Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry.

Three of those points in the Bulls' gritty 120-112 overtime victory over the Pacers Monday night came on a ridiculously tough stepback 3-pointer over Domantas Sabonis that nudged the Bulls ahead by one late in regulation. And LaVine, who also grabbed nine rebounds, played strong enough defense throughout to draw postgame praise in that department from coach Billy Donovan.

"Thad (Young) has been, for me personally, the MVP of the team," LaVine said.

Come again?

"He does a little bit of everything," LaVine said. "He can damn near average a triple-double. He makes up for our mistakes defensively, guards some of the best big men every night. Even if he's undersized, he knows how to play tricks with them. He has been great for us. (Monday night), he showed that again with crucial plays -- getting charges and rebounds, being physical. He's the type of guy you love to have on your team."

LaVine has a strong chance to head to Atlanta for his first NBA All-Star appearance next month. Young, in his 14th season, will be headed for some family time. But LaVine knows what's up. With 13 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and multiple crucial plays that contributed to winning, Young placed his fingerprints all over the overtime victory.

Just as he has all season.

"I feel like he's always making the right play," Wendell Carter Jr. said.

Young is now averaging 11.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, a career-high 4.3 assists and 1.4 steals on career-high 59.7 percent shooting. He has recorded at least one steal in 15 straight games, tied with Chris Paul for the league-high streak.

Asked what it's like to shoot such a high percentage, Young smiled.

"It's cool," he said.

Given his salary-cap friendly contract, which only carries a partial guarantee for the 2021-22 season, there will be no shortage of suitors for Young's services as next month's NBA trade deadline arrives. How the Bulls' new management regime navigates that situation will be intriguing to monitor.

Simply put, Young, 32, is playing sublime basketball on the court. And his leadership off it pays dividends as well. But don't take our word for it. Listen to Wendell Carter Jr., who returned from his quad injury Monday night with plenty of Young teaching points -- verbal and by example -- to follow.

"He's a phenomenal pocket player," Carter said. "As a vet, he just thinks the game. He slows the game down for himself and it's pretty impressive, especially with the games I was out being able to really watch him. He's a great player and I see why he's been in this league for so long.

"We had conversations while I was out. After games, during practice and he's just telling me like, 'Man, you catch in the pocket, you've got all day. You can take your time. You can literally look on the weak side, see if anybody's over there and if you got a line to the bucket, take it.' That's just as simple as it is."

Donovan has talked all season about keeping Young fresh by keeping his minutes at a reasonable level. Young prides himself on his offseason workout regimen and always is in fantastic shape. He also talked Monday about how, for years, he has turned his hotel room into a secondary training room on trips, using recovery methods in his room that he has learned over the years.

But he's still appreciative of Donovan's approach.

"There have been times in my career where I've played an enormous amount of minutes throughout the course of games and it took a toll, like it does on any athlete's body," Young said. "Especially in Indy, when I was playing stretches where I was playing like 37, 38 minutes per game for like five, six or seven games. And I'd just be kind of dead in the water for like two to three games. That's hard to kind of sustain throughout the course of a whole basketball season, especially when you're playing 82 games -- in this case, 72.

"So we've just had those conversations about when we're doing things in practice that it's maybe some things I already know or maybe I'm familiar with or acclimated with that I don't have to do. Just to kind of stand on the side or take a couple trips off. But I'm the type that wants to be out there if we have practice or we play so that really goes out the window. But for the most part, Coach Donovan has been good just making sure that our bodies and our minds and our spirits are right before we approach every game."

Perhaps the most impressive aspect to Young's strong outing Monday night is that he picked up his fourth foul just over midway through the third quarter. Not only did Young not draw another foul, he took two charges from Sabonis and saved his best for last. He posted 2 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal while playing all of overtime.

"Thad was essentially my vet my rookie year in Minnesota," LaVine said. "I think we all understand how good he is. He helped Indiana obviously a tremendous bit. His plus-minus on the court was ridiculous when we was here (for three seasons with the Pacers). He shot over 50% for most of his career. He’s always been in the top in the league in steals, being able to guard multiple positions even when he was with Philly.

"Obviously, I know Thad personally as my best teammate I’ve had and one of my best friends in the league. So I’ve always had trust in him. So seeing him in this role and being able to flourish is something that we needed. And he needed the opportunity again to do this because he’s that type of player. He’s good.”

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