His wrist is fine. Nothing to see here. No problems. It was the lack of Derrick Rose that forced Luol Deng into a worse season last year. That's the ticket.
Maybe it is. Derrick Rose should theoretically make a big difference for Luol Deng's game, except he wasn't really asked to create a lot of shots last season either and didn't spend that much time taking shots he would normally avoid. His field goal attempts per minute (13.6) were up a shade from the previous seasons but weren't at an all time high even in the Derrick Rose era (13.8 in 2009/10).
However, what was at an all time low was his efficiency. At 42.6% FG%, 32.2% three point percentage, Deng simply wasn't getting it done shooting the basketball. A common reason for that has been that Luol Deng simply missed Derrick Rose.
It's hard to ignore the fact that Luol Deng played another five years in his career without Derrick Rose and never shot this bad, and I think the obvious is simply being overlooked. The wrist, despite what Deng says, never really got better.
I'm not a doctor, but my pretty strong suspicion is that if you tear a ligament off, it's not growing back if it isn't surgically reattached. The pain might be down, but the wrist isn't the same as it was and his shooting percentages reflect this.
Since the wrist injury, Deng has shot 41.9% from the field and 33.3% from the three point line. Lo and behold, that's nearly identical to last seasons numbers. Prior to the wrist injury in 2012 Deng was shooting 50% from the field and 60% from the three point line (small sample size for the win!).
Overall, Deng's shooting looks something like this:
So the scary thing here is that Luol Deng has changed from a decently efficient offensive player who could give you a good volume of scoring into a guy shooting in the low 40s and lousy from the three point line while not giving you the foul rate to make up for it.
Deng was never an offensive creator, but we weren't always talking about his intangibles like the Deng defense squad does now. We used to talk about his unstoppable mid range jumper [even if it was overrated], and he used to provide decently efficient volume scoring to go a long with everything else.
The question for this season is whether or not he gets it back when Rose comes back healthy and Deng isn't asked to do so much. My fear with this theory is simply that his numbers last year line up pretty evenly with his overall numbers since the wrist was hurt.
But that's not the only explanation
All boats sank without Derrick Rose. The team offensive efficiency plummeted overall, and Deng was just one of the guys who sank with it. Deng wasn't asked to create more shots in Rose's absence or play differently, but the quality of shots created for him by Nate Robinson and Kirk Hinrich were likely considerably worse overall.
Was that difference big enough to explain the large drop in his own efficiency? Perhaps. The fact that percentages lining up could be for multiple reasons, the second half of 2012 was due to the wrist and 2012/13 was due to Rose. Certainly a possibility.
Numbers can lie in all kinds of ways, and the sample sizes aren't large or repeatable, so it's difficult to trust them. The eye test isn't much better. Every time I see Deng struggle to dribble with his left I'd want to say "look! look! it's still a problem!" but the fact is, Deng was never a quality NBA caliber ball handler.
Contract year bump?
Deng should be plenty motivated for a big season this year. He's in a contract year, probably the last big contract year of his career, and if he throws up another 42%/32% season like last year, the money won't be there. Fans think "oh Luol Deng will easily get 12 million from some other team", no, not shooting with last years numbers.
"But defense is 50% of the game", true, but it's the 50% you can find guys at near the minimum to play really well.
So Deng needs this year to be a big year as much as the Bulls do. Unfortunately, Deng's not the "contract year" personality type.
Sorry folks, but Deng works hard every year. He puts in his all every game. He's already doing all the little things. This isn't a player who's going to have much more to give because he needs it to be a big year.
The rest factor could be big
Luol Deng also went out and played in the Olympics in the off-season last year. He never really had a chance to settle down and heal up for the season.
On top of that, he'd been training for the Olympics for multiple years prior to that, so he wasn't really getting a good rest those off-seasons either.
I'm not sure how much stock I put into the international play off-season as a detriment to one's game. I've seen numbers that suggest it is a large negative, but I can't imagine the practices with the international squads are really any more of a grind than what the players would be doing on their own.
It's not like guys work on their game by playing NBA 2K all summer to see what works. No, they're in the gym working hard.
Maybe Deng comes up big this year and redeems himself. If he does, the Bulls will have an excellent chance at the championship. If the Bulls can stay healthy and have their players play up to their potential then they'll be in the mix with the very best teams. Including Miami.
However, it may also be the case that age and wear and tear have caught up with Deng. He may never be the same, especially after not opting for surgery. The return of Derrick Rose may not be enough to change that.
Wrist or Rose? Only time will tell.