Luol Deng & the Myth of the NBA's Condensed Schedule

Luol Deng & the Myth of the NBA's Condensed Schedule
Photo by Keith Allison

Yes, Luol Deng plays a lot of minutes. A lot. He went into Friday's game at Boston averaging 39.0 minutes a night, which was fourth in the league behind Monta Ellis, Eric Gordon and Kevin Love. And Gordon has only played in two games this season.

At 26 years old, Deng is just coming into his prime as a player- and one would assume as an athlete- so he certainly should be able to handle playing 39 minutes a night.

Just to kind of put things in perspective, at age 26 Scottie Pippen played 38.6 minutes per game, and MJ played (ironically enough) exactly 39 minutes a night when he was 26.

If you are over 40 like I am, you certainly know that back 20 years ago, the NBA was much more physical that it is today. MJ and Pip got beat up a hell of a lot more than Deng does, and they didn't fade down the stretch of games, or in the playoffs.

So why are so many fans- and some members of the media- making such a big deal out of how many minutes Luol is playing each night? One of the common reasons that I read is this season is condensed due to the lockout and teams are playing games a lot more frequently.

And yes, that is technically true- but if you look at the actual number of games per week or month compared to prior season, you easily see what a strawman this argument is.

This season, the Bulls are playing 66 games in a regular season that lasts 124 days. A little bit of simple math tells you that the Bulls are playing 3.726 games per week on average.

Last season, the Bulls played 82 games in 167 days, which comes out to 3.437 games per week.

So compared to last season, the Bulls are playing .289 more games each week than they did last season. That's one extra game every 3.46 weeks, or 1.26 more games a month.

I'm pretty sure that if you ask the players, they would tell you that playing one extra game every three and a half weeks isn't much of hardship, if any.

Maybe if Deng were struggling down the stretch of games, I might see his minutes as a concern. But according to, Luol is playing better late in close games.

The guys at consider "clutch time" to be the last five minutes of the 4th quarter and/or overtime with neither team having more than a five point lead.

While it's still early in the season, so far this year in the clutch Luol hasn't missed a FGA, and his 77.8% success rate on free throws is higher than his percentage on the season as a whole.

Rose admitted that he was worn out last season by the end of the Heat series, but I attribute that to Rose playing more games last season than he'd ever played in his life. He didn't play any more minutes than LeBron last year, and LBJ certainly looked fresh late in games against the Bulls during that series.


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  • I agree with a lot of what you say here Don - can't argue with the stats but some will lol. My issue is less about the amount of games but with the rush to get the season started on Dec 25th. Without the benefit of a 4 week 6-8 game pre-season players are either not in shape (Joakim) or trying too hard to play at 100% when their body is not yet adjusted to a proper NBA game and getting the niggly injuries (Rip and about 50 other NBA players lol!).

    Bulls have had and will continue to have an advantage for the first month of the season due to squad continuity so I think it is a good idea to use this benefit to get a good lead over other teams in the East. We want/need home court; if we can do that with having a few games spare at the end of the regular season to allow for the resting of minor injuries we will have a chance. In last years's ECF Jo and Booz were not fully fit, Omer did his leg in (that I believe was the series changer!) and we didn't have Rip to efficiently help the team on offence.
    So yes we need to prepare for the playoffs (as everyone is demanding) but we do need to get their in the best position we can.
    The Luol minutes issue I believe is exacerbated by the lack of the 2-3 minute rest we normally see from other heavy minute player at the start of the 4th qtr. It just seems he is always on court. Kobe under PJ would always get 2-3 mins at the start of the 4th. This with commercial timeouts (because Lakers played a lot of National TV games) meant that for 3 minutes court-time Kobe got 15-20 minutes actual rest-time. Thibs assistant's need to advise him better on substitution patterns rather than amount of time his players are playing. Thibs seems to prefer less longer rest periods rather than more shorter ones. I know from my playing days the more frequent shorter ones especially co-insiding with timeouts were best.

  • Thanks a lot for that Jersey66, I always appreciate intelligent comments.

    Just a few things- first, there are no extra "commercial timeouts" in nationally televised games. In fact, whether it's televised nationally, locally, or not at all, NBA games always have timeouts at pre-determined intervals.

    In the first and third quarters, there is an automatic timeout at the first dead ball after the game clock gets under 6:00 and then 3:00. In the second and fourth quarters, there is an automatic timeout at the first dead ball after the game clock gets under 9:00, 6:00 and 3:00.

    This is subject to change if one of the teams calls a timeout before the automatic stoppage- for example, if the Bulls call a timeout with 10:25 left in the 2nd quarter, the 9:00 timeout has been taken, and the next timeout won't be until the clock gets under 6:00.

    The automatic timeouts are charged to one of the teams, alternating between timeouts. For example in the first quarter, the under 6:00 timeout is charged to one team, and the under 3:00 timeout is charged to the other. This is why you will sometimes see coaches waiting to call a timeout, they know exactly when the next automatic timeout is coming, so often they will wait for a dead ball instead of calling the timeout and looking like they "needed" the TO.

    All that being said, your point about Kobe is still pretty valid. Phil used to do the same thing with MJ- he would often take him out right near the end of the 1st/3rd quarter and let him sit until after the 9:00 timeout in the 2nd/4th. That way he'd sit out approximately 4:00 of game time, but he'd get the quarter break and the first timeout of the quarter.

    Would I rather see Thibs go to something like this? Yeah, it might work a little better than what he's doing, but then again when you look at the way Deng is playing late in games, it's pretty hard to say he's gassed.

    But I'm just not too worried about it this early in the season- like you said, I'm sure most of the guys are still working themselves into game shape. It has still not quite been a month since they reported, and most players will tell you that practice is more demanding than a game (Allen Iverson excluded, of course. Practice? We talking about practice?).

  • Deng is leading the league in total minutes played with 511 to date. He seems to get better with every minute he is on the court both offensively and defensively. I really think whatever injury bug he had earlier on is clearly a non factor in this part of his career.

    A rare fact that nobody really knows or talks about is the fact that Luol was the No. 2 player coming out of high school behind LeBron James. Deng obviously went to Duke as a freshman and James went immediately to the NBA. Deng was pretty much forgotten on a beefy Duke team and never really was thought of as No. 2 to LeBron ever since.

    I may be going out on a limb. But in the past few seasons, I think Deng should be considered as one of the top 10 players in the league. Especially considering playing on both sides of the ball.

    Great read and welcome to the family!

  • In reply to Curtis Shaw Flagg:

    Thanks again for the warm welcome Curtis, both here and on FB, I truly appreciate it.

    Deng leads in total minutes, which is not surprising since the Bulls (and Lakers) have played the most games in the league so far.

    Which is a huge advantage- the Bulls' youth and depth allows them to handle the early season crunch better than most teams. And everyone plays 66 games, play as many as you can now so you get more rest in April.

    Deng is finally starting to get the recognition he deserves, I really don't see any way he isn't named as an All-Star backup this season. His defense and rebounding have always been there, but over the last 18 months or so he's really improved what were his two weaknesses- 3 point shooting and late-game offensive efficiency.

    To paraphrase what the Clippers' announcers said last month when the Bulls were in Staples Center- Deng isn't a top 5 offensive player, and he might not be a top 5 defender. But put them together, with what he does on both ends of the floor, and he's a top 15 player in the NBA.

  • Very good points Don, and I finally checked out those timeout rules a couple years ago and your right on with how that affects the coaches' decisions on when to call timeouts...I am kind of confused also how people question the lockout to cause more fatigue. If they are playing less games, shouldn't the players be able to play more each game? I understand that they are playing the games in a shorter time frame, but your points about how much little of a difference it is each month hopefully will help people understand.

    When I saw Curtis' comment about Luol being a top 10 player, at first I thought it was a little crazy. But thinking about that, you may be able to make the case because of the "both sides of the ball" idea Curtis mentioned...It's hard to think of 10 players who are both better on offense and defense. Or I'm just being a bias Bulls fan, I don't know lol...

  • In reply to Keep:

    Thanks for that Keep, but I honestly believe that the people who complain about Deng's minutes, about Boozer's play, about how the Bulls need a better THIRD-STRING point guard- they are going to keep complaining, no matter what facts you throw at them.

    Some people are naturally negative- the Bulls could be 13-0 with the #1 offense and the #1 defense in the league, and complainers would still find something to complain about.

    I think Deng is probably the most under-rated player on the Bulls' roster. IMHO it's because defense is so hard to gague, there's not a simple statistic to rate a player's defense on. The casual fan has a hard time telling how good a player is on the defensive side of the ball.

    The phrase "lock-down defender" is thrown around a lot, but to be honest nobody locks down the true superstars of this league- not by themselves, anyway.

  • Thanks for the positive attitude! Im sure there were many folks that predicted the first bulls championship team had no chance to beat the pistons or the lakers. But they did! Last year no one predicted us to have the kind of season we had last year. Actually i had the bulls to win 60, after their first month of play. People thought i was crazy. Miami might have better talent, but we may have the better team, and more heart. Those folks that predict the bulls wont get past miami, i say just dont know, but hopefully we find out.

  • As far as Deng minutes, in coach i trust. He doesnt look like he's struggling down the stretch. If anybody knows what Deng is capable of. Its Thibs.

  • deng's FG% is way down from his historical norms, his 3pt% is very depressed and even his FT% and FT rate are low compared to his norms. now his "hustle" numbers like rebounds, steals and blocks are good, and his TOs are good as well (which i suppose could mean he isnt getting sloppy on account of fatigue), but the argument that his shooting is off because of the minutes he plays and the condensed schedule isnt totally nuts . we'll just have to wait and see if some of these numbers float back to their historical norms.

  • Well at least Deng got plenty of rest tonight, he only played 27 minutes, and now the team doesn't play again until Friday, and they are off tomorrow- no practice.

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    Don Ellis started covering sports professionally when he was 15. The same year (1980), as a student assistant at Seeger Memorial High School in West Lebanon, IN, he was one of the first in the world to use, study and implement analytics in basketball. He attended Daytona State College and Ball State University, and some of his past credits include InsideHoops (NBA Runaround: The NBA According to Ellis) and ESPN Florida (The Florida Sports Reporters), where he was fortunate enough to work with many rising stars, including NFL Network's Dan Hellie, Redskins coach Jay Gruden, Magic radio and TV personality Dante Marchitelli, and WSB-TV (Atlanta) Sports Director Zach Klein. In addition to running the Bullsville blog and officiating basketball, baseball and football for the KHSAA, he is also a bass player and vocalist who writes and produces music in his spare time (you may remember his internet hit "I Hate Eddy Curry"). He's a 3rd-generation Cubs fan, a Bulls fan since the days of Van Lier and Sloan, and a life-long New England Patriots fan. He's seen Primus 9 times and thinks Les Claypool walks on water. By far his greatest accomplishment is being a father of three and grandfather of one.

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