Chicago Bulls' Zach LaVine focused on becoming NBA All-Star

CHICAGO -- Zach LaVine is no fool.

He knows personal accolades in the NBA are often achieved through team success.

Which is why even after a career-best 2018-19 campaign with the Chicago Bulls, he knows what needs to be done in order to achieve his goal of becoming an NBA All-Star.

"Everything comes with winning. I feel like if we win and we're in the right positions, the sky is the limit for me," LaVine told ESPN following Thursday's practice. "I had an All-Star-caliber year last year, but we had 22 wins so it got a little bit swept under the rug. But that's how it's supposed to be when you have 20 wins. But if I continue to play the way I'm supposed to, there's no reason I shouldn't be an All-Star or All-NBA type guy."

With All-Star Weekend set to return to Chicago for the first time in three decades this February, the two-time slam dunk champion is certainly eyeing this year's festivities. But not just the ones on Saturday night.

"I expect to be there through the whole weekend, and if my legs are right, obviously I would love to [compete in the dunk contest], but I've got to make sure what's best for me and the team," LaVine said. "I've been on that stage before, but I haven't been on the Sunday night one, so I expect to be there and I expect us to move forward."

LaVine, 24, averaged career highs of 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists with 46.7 percent shooting during his fifth season, but the Bulls were an afterthought with a 22-60 finish. He appeared in 63 total games while battling an ankle injury and pushing through drama within the organization that resulted in Jim Boylen being promoted to head coach after the firing of Chicago's previous sideline leader Fred Hoiberg.

Although they didn't fully see eye to eye in the beginning, Boylen certainly has faith in LaVine's offensive ability, after finishing in the top-20 of NBA scoring, but he is now challenging LaVine to regularly commit to the other end of the court.

"What I'd like him to be is a two-way player, and I'd also like him to be a guy that shoots eight, nine, 10 free throws a game," Boylen said.

Bulls forward Thaddeus Young didn't make the final cut from the Team USA roster this summer to compete in FIBA Basketball World Cup action, but he was able to interact with several of the league's rising stars such as Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum and Myles Turner through that experience. Young sees a common thread between LaVine and that level of talent.

"Their work, their grind each and every day. They don't get tired of it," Young noted. "They continue to go out there and do it.

"Zach has taken on a new challenge," he added. "We told him at the beginning of the season that he has to become a better two-way player, and he's taken strides in the preseason and doing that, hustling back and going on the court for loose balls, making sure he's out there doing the things we need him to do for us as a team. His leadership has grown tremendously since I've been here, and he's getting better each and every day. But he doesn't get tired of the grind, he doesn't get tired of the work and he's going to continue to get better."

Chicago posted the league's sixth-worst defensive rating last season (112.8), so it's not only LaVine who is looking to improve defensively but also the team, which gets back to his point of team and individual success being intertwined.

Since the 2009-10 season, there have been 44 instances of a player making an All-Star team with his team finishing with a sub-.500 record, according to Elias Sports Bureau research.

"I view myself as an elite guy. Whenever I'm on the court, obviously confidence-wise I think I'm the best player on the court," said LaVine, who posted 28 points in 24 minutes of Wednesday's preseason loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. "I draw the No. 1 scouting report every night, I draw the best defender, but whatever I've got to do to make the team better and continue to work on my craft, but like I said it'll come with winning.

"I think I'm a little underrated, but who's going to be looking at a 22-win team obviously, so I think the national media coverage is a little bit slacking on that."