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The Bulls are 20-36 this season, a record that is 12th best in the Eastern conference. They’re rebuilding, and little success was expected this season. Their main goal needed to be to find a bunch of young building blocks that have legitimate potential to do big things in the future. That mission has mostly been accomplished. Here’s NBC Sports Chicago on reporting on Zach Lavine and more:

Over his last five games, LaVine is averaging around 25 points while shooting 46 percent from the field and the 3 point line. He also has emerged as the team’s closer, scoring the Bulls’ last 11 points in the thrilling win over Jimmy Butler and the Timberwolves last week, then coming up with a late steal and breakaway dunk in the closing seconds to give the Bulls a win over Orlando on Monday.

Clearly, LaVine was the centerpiece of last summer’s draft night trade sending Butler to Minnesota. He was coming into his own as an NBA player in his 3rd season with the Timberwolves before the ACL injury, averaging nearly 19 points a game as the team’s third scoring option, while improving his 3 point shooting to right around 39 percent. There’s no way Tom Thibodeau would have included LaVine in the Butler deal if he hadn’t suffered the injury.

Now, the Bulls are able to center their rebuild around the talents of the 3 players they acquired from Minnesota. LaVine turns 23 next month, Kris Dunn turns 24 on March 18th, and Lauri Markkanen is only 20. Dunn has emerged as a quality NBA point guard whose defensive skills and toughness bring out the best in his teammates and the 7-foot Markkanen could be a future All-Star with his smooth shooting stroke and versatile offensive game.

Still, even after just a 13-game sample size, it’s clear LaVine is the player that figures to shine brightest on the NBA stage. The two-time slam dunk champion hasn’t lost any of that explosive leaping ability and he has the charisma and self-confidence necessary to accept the responsibility of being “the man” in a major market like Chicago. Going head to head with Butler down the stretch of a close game shows LaVine won’t back down from a challenge and isn’t afraid of his team’s fate resting on his shoulders.

With the Eastern Conference struggling to produce 12 All-Star worthy candidates this season, LaVine and Markkanen could inject themselves into that conversation as soon as next year.

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