Isn't that an odd thing to think? Luol Deng? The guy we wanted to trade away because of his contract? The guy who's been called soft, fragile, and bitched about incessantly since the 07/08 season? Luol Deng? The guy who can't create his own shot or hit threes? Luol Deng? The guy who's not athletic enough to defend anyone?
Yeah. That Luol Deng.
Even in retrospect those thoughts made sense (at the time)
Luol Deng couldn't stay healthy, create his own shot, shoot threes, or defend in Del Negro's scheme. If there's any single thing that shows you how wretched of a coach that Vinny Del Negro was, it's that Luol Deng frequently looked like a liability on defense much of the time last season and looks like a 1st team all defensive player this season.
It was fair to wonder if he'd ever stay healthy. If he could handle the minutes. If he could expand his game to work better with Derrick Rose.
Deng answered most of the questions
I still don't think Luol can create his shot in an isolation situation, but everything else has been accomplished. Perhaps the most important factor of all is health. We were all scared of Deng wearing down over the course of the season. Not Tom Thibodeau who's got Deng amongst the highest in the league in minutes per game.
We had some hope that he'd shoot threes after hitting a good percentage last season even if the volume was low. Wrap your mind around this. Luol Deng is in his seventh year in the NBA. He's made 110 threes this season in less than a full season. In the previous six seasons, Deng knocked down a total of 101 threes combined.
Is there another player out there who knocked down more threes in his seventh (or later) season than in his previous first six? That's simply an incredible improvement in confidence and shows a lot of work on his game this off season.
Watching Deng defend in great defensive scheme is a think of beauty. He makes quick decisions, knows his responsibilities, and makes the right play almost all the time. Deng's opponent simply isn't going to get many easy shots off against him.
There are guys who can work him over occasionally, but he makes them work hard at it. No one's going up against Luol and having an easy time. They're in for a long night of well contested shots.
Looking at what Deng brings to the table, he's pretty irreplaceable
If we woke up tomorrow and found out that one of Boozer, Noah, or Deng was going to miss the rest of the season, I'm not sure whom I'd pick, but I am sure that it wouldn't be Luol Deng.
The Bulls, quite honestly, need his shooting. They need his perimeter defense. They need his off the ball movement to help loosen up the opposing defense.
They've already proven they can live without Boozer or Noah for stretches and still compete with the best teams in the league. They have plenty of front court depth, and I trust Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, and Kurt Thomas to play in expanded roles if necessary.
There really is no one to replace Luol Deng on this team.
Deng might be the best system guy in the NBA
By that, I mean he's a guy who relies on the system in place on both ends of the floor. He doesn't have the shot creation or raw athleticism to kill guys without a good scheme. However, when playing inside a good scheme, he's a great player.
When looking at the results of Deng under Skiles and Thiobdeau, you see a player who really impacts the game on both ends of the floor in a big way. Against Miami a few years ago in the playoffs, they simply had no answer for Luol Deng.
Under Thibodeau, Deng has provided a ton. He's often the glue piece to help the bench mob through in transition, he thrives off the ball, and he plays great defense.
Under Del Negro, we wanted to ship him off the team for a couple of rolls of toilet paper and a conditional third round pick in case they ever institute a third round again.
In a season dominated by Derrick Rose, it's worth looking at some of the other great stories around the team. Luol might not win any awards. I think his best shot is an NBA all defensive selection (probably 2nd or 3rd team). He was never down enough to get a comeback player or most improved.
While we all know Rose has been the key to this remarkable season, he couldn't have done it this year without Deng.