Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why Chicago Can't Afford For Luol Deng To Be Out "A While"

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is reporting that Luol Deng has a torn wrist ligament and is going to be out for (and I quote) "a while".

Bulls fans: hope that "a while" does not mean a long time and that Deng can avoid season-ending surgery. It could be fatal. It's fair to say that Deng is the Bulls' second-best player, behind Derrick Rose. He contributes on both ends in ways that his replacements (rookie Jimmy Butler or one of the Ronnie Brewer/Kyle Korver shooting guard duo) simply can't.

When the Bulls play the Heat, Deng guards either Dwyane Wade or Lebron James. When they play the Lakers, he guards Kobe Bryant. Kevin Durant. Andre Iguodala. Rudy Gay. Paul Pierce. Joe Johnson. See where this is going? He guards the other team's best player, and with his size and length, he usually shuts them down pretty well. He fills the defensive stopper role popularized most recently by Ron Artest and Shawn Marion.

And he's not as much of a hindrance on offense as Artest and Marion. He averages 16 points a night on a team that has ten players averaging more than 6 points (second behind Rose's 21). A product of Duke University, he shoots three pointers and free throws as well as you'd imagine him. I have his offensive efficiency at a healthy 36.2 JPoint for his career.

Overall, I have him as the third best small forward in the East (James and Carmelo Anthony) and fourth best overall (Durant). I'd take him over Johnson and Gay (but it's close), and I'd take him 10 times out of 10 over Pierce, Danilo Gallinari, and Marion. It's really a shame that he's not in the Western Conference - he really deserves an All-Star bid but he obviously isn't going to get one with 'Bron and 'Melo in front of him.

Should the Bulls lose Deng for an extended period of time, conventional wisdom says they'll be alright. After all, they lost the MVP for a few games and still played well. But I think losing Deng would hurt more than losing Rose (which is why I don't think Rose should have won MVP at all, but that's another discussion) and here's why: at guard, Chicago has John Lucas, CJ Watson, Korver, Brewer, and Hamilton (if healthy) behind Rose. Even with a full roster (meaning Rip Hamilton starts at the 2), losing Deng means that Korver, Brewer, or Butler would be in the starting lineup and be logging a lot more minutes than they should be.

I like Korver, but he can't do a lot. I don't like Brewer, and he can't do a lot. Butler averages 4 minutes per game. So there's that.

Luol Deng is in a position on a team that not a lot of people realize: if Chicago loses him for the season, they're going to have to make a significant move to acquire a starting small forward. Keep that on your radar, although I am wishing the best for Luol. I hope it's not a serious injury.

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