If there’s a season in which Luol Deng needs to play like an All-Star and produce the numbers you expect from one, it’s this one. Without Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls need more than just effort, hustle and defense to win and compete for the East. They need their talent players to be at their best, and Deng is the first name on that list.
Well, he’s season progress seems to be going fine. He scored 7 points on the opening game in a win over the Kings. Then came a 14 point game in a blowout win over the Cavs, which was a bit of a rest for Deng, playing “only” 31 minutes. In the loss to the Hornets he scored 19 points and against the surprising Orlando Magic, Deng led the scoring for the Bulls with 23 points, adding 8 rebounds and 4 assists.
Numbers this season so far? 15.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists. Not good enough. The ball needs to be a lot in Deng’s hands, and he needs to do the right things with it. Not to take away from his other talents, and especially on defense and ability to defend the perimeter, but Deng needs to be more than just a third option and a well balanced but often stuck offense, that needs some sort of hierarchy and someone who gets the majority of the plays run for him.
Deng is a quiet leader. In team Great Britain it went without saying. He’s the star, the only star, and he did a pretty good job in the Olympics while playing against far superior competition. He’s the leader in the locker room for the Chicago Bulls, but sometimes you don’t see it on the court. Too much of “Deng does everything you need him to” vibe omitting off of him and Tom Thibodeau.
Everyone keeps complementing Deng for his versatility and the many ways he can contribute to the team. His scoring, his passing, his leadership, his defense. But sometimes, like in the win over the Magic, Deng needs to forget about versatility. He needs to remember there’s no Derrick Rose on the floor, and he’s the best shot the Bulls have to score. This team is all about defense and winning through it before anything else, but some sort of individual superiority has to come into play here.
More than just an energy guy, Deng needs to be a constant go to guy, thus making things much easier for Joakim Noah, starting the season with 16 points per game, and Carlos Boozer, who was terrible against the Magic, forcing too many shots and finishing with 6-18. The original idea, when Boozer was signed in 2010, to make him the number 2 scorer next to Derrick Rose. Two years later, it seems like a bad idea. Boozer just isn’t good enough anymore, and Deng needs to be the guy that the teams plays for at the moment.
It’s true that one of the special things about the Chicago Bulls has been the depth and the togetherness feel to them, but they still had a superstar at point guard who won’t be back for a while. To keep winning games and be a factor in the race for the Eastern conference crown, they need Luol Deng to play like the superstar he is, but often likes to hide.