Wrist or Rose? What do the Bulls get from Luol Deng this season?

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:

Season FG% 3pt%
2009/10 46.6% 38.6%
2010/11 46.0% 34.5%
2011/12 before 50.0% 60.0%
2011/12 after 40.0% 37.5%
2012/13 42.6% 32.2%
combined after 41.9% 33.3%

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.

Final thoughts

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.


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  • Doug, shocked you omitted a couple items-

    He was actually having a pretty good year until the hamstring injury. His mobility was severely limited after that. Bad hamstring injuries can take months to fully regain strength and be at the point you were pre-injury.

    Not only that, but he later revealed that he was playing through a fractured thumb. I am sure that did not help his shooting either.

    The whole season, I was looking like a hawk at his wrist, and it really was "nothing to see here." The couple times that I remember he got whacked and clenched his hand, it turned out to not be his wrist (one time he jammed this finger, and the other was probably when the fracture occurred).

  • Deng at 3 more years wouldn't of been a bad deal, perhaps at 10 million per year but can he get back to 45% fg ? Maybe the Bulls feel strongly with back channels that they have several free agents interested next year, guys like Pau Gasol, Danny Granger, Kobe Bryant?, Rudy Gay and a few others. I'm not sure any of the above would take a "discount" to play on the Bulls but we'll see. I am most intrigued with the Pau Gasol, Noah and Taj Gibson big man rotation. We would be lacking on the perimeter wing scoring unless Snell shows he can get the job done. I can understand the Bulls for not wanting to resign Deng and remember Rose let it be known he wanted Pau Gasol on the Bulls and wanted them to trade for him. We'll see where things go but the duke Boozer-Deng forward tandem most likely will be coming to an end after this season.

  • In reply to Defense-Rebound13:

    I'm not sure about $10 mil/yr - but if he turns his shooting around, then possibly. Because the defense and rebounding is there. He is always in great shape and able to play a ton of minutes - although maybe less is in order as he hits 30 during this next contract.

    I'm intrigued with the prospect of Gasol, and nobody on these boards (Doug?!) has really replied or written much about a possible Gasol addition next year. (2-year contract still fits in the Duranchula 2016 summer plan!)

    Amnesty Boozer and let Deng go. This is possible if A) if Snell shows he can step up in year 2 (he does not have to have a dominant role, just provide good shooting and defense), or B) you can sign a cheaper SF. Or, C) resign Deng on the cheap if possible and hope you can squeeze Gasol in under the cap.

    Then bring Mirotic over and bam! Very attractive lineup with improved offense and floor spacing and still enough defenders on the roster. More size than about anyone and still great rebounding. Still flexible and probably under the cap and definitely the luxury tax - although you still have to pay Boozer some.

  • In reply to Granby:

    No one is talking about Gasol because the guy probably isn't going nowhere as long as Kobe keeps playing. The Lakers are hurti.g for talent on their team and the only way they let Gasol leave in any deal I'm sure they will have to get the better of the deal like they always do. De.g for Gasol is not enough to get a deal done with the Lakers. A couple more assets im sure would have tobe added to the deal and the Bulls are very limited on assets and Gasol aint worth all of that considering his age.

  • I have been way more annoyed with Deng not having wrist surgery than I was that Rose didn't play last season. Not having the wrist surgery was way more selfish on Deng's part than Rose sitting out, which I see as fine despite Dan Bernstein's protests. I don't begrudge Deng's once in a lifetime chance of playing for London in London, but it was selfish. So personally I wish he had had the surgery after the Olympics, which I know would have had him out half the season, but really what difference would that have made? Accept now we'd be discussing how both he and Rose were 100%.

  • In reply to Hoover:

    I'm not 100% sure, but wasn't the Bulls FO in favor of the non-surgical decision post-Olympics? Bulls FO didn't want to lose Deng for the first part of last season, and were also pressuring Rose to return early.

  • In reply to Edward:

    I agree that Bulls FO was probably in favor of such a solution.

  • The rest this summer should be significant. The guy led the league in mpg for the past 2 season with around 39 per night and was ranked 4th 3 seasons ago. He also plays almost as much mpg for GB each summer (keep in mind that international games are 8 minutes shorter) and as the star/leader of the team, he is asked to basically do everything for them.

    Playing 39 mpg during last year's crazy schedule, then going on to play heavy minutes for Great Britain in the Olympics virtually having no rest during the summer and after that playing another 39 mpg season with the Bulls - it's a miracle the guy could still contribute anything on a basketball court.

  • I think that Deng will have a great year. There are just so many factors that should go his way:

    1. Added rest
    2. Rose back
    3. Wrist/thumb healthy
    4. Contract year, although I agree he works hard all the time. Still, has to count for something.

    He's not old, as he just turned 28 on April 16th. If he was paid $8-10 million/year instead of closer to $14 million/year, we would all love him.

    I think he'll shoot 36-38% from 3 and back around 45% from the field overall. It's a toss-up whether or not he stays. If Snell shows any kind of promise and Deng has a decent year, Deng is gone. Someone will pay Deng more. But, that's why Snell was drafted. Great draft strategy by the Bulls, as long as Snell works out. Why go for a backup to Noah when you may need a starting wing in a year?!

  • Statistically, Deng peaked 7 years ago, in his 3rd year in the league(06-07), which is early especially for a guy who only played one year of college ball. He has been steadily declining ever since. He followed that up with arguably his second best season in 07-08. While you could live with his 09-10/10-11 seasons, the last 2 have been pedestrian if not worse.

    As for the wrist, who knows what the story is, but for what it is worth Kobe Bryant had the same, but reportedly much worse injury than Deng in the preseason 2 years ago. He shot 43% playing the whole year with his wrist. Last season he came back to 46.3%, a point above his career mark. Deng who had a higher career FG% going into those 2 years shot 41% and 42%.

    He is a career average 16 ppg, 6 >rpg, 3< apg, about what he delivered last season. He is what he is, a non difference maker who plays hard, eats up minutes and doesn't win you championships. Rose or no Rose, wrist or no wrist, it is really hard to expect any improvement from a guy heading into his 10th season on a 7 year downward arc, if not spiral.

    I really don't see Deng landing an 8 figure per year contract next summer, but like they say, it only takes one dumb/desperate team to make a market.

  • There's only one small problem with blaming it on the wrist:

    Deng originally returned from the torn ligament on February 4th after sitting out 7 games. From that night through the end of March (26 games), Deng shot 41.0% from behind the arc on 4.7 attempts per game.

    Call me crazy, but there is no effing way a guy tears a ligament in his wrist, proceeds to immediately go on probably the absolute hottest 3-point binge over 2 months of his life, and then can't shoot for the next season+ because of the wrist.

    I guess we'll find out this season, assuming reasonable health. All I can say is 2011-12, the Bulls went 32-7 when Rose played. 32-7 when Rose and Noah played, 31-7 when Rose and Boozer played, 26-4 when Rose and Deng played.

  • It's actually pretty ironic-

    A lot of the same people who are worried that Rose won't resign with the Bulls...

    ...know that Rose loves Thibs, but don't care if the Bulls' FO pisses off Thibs by letting Deng go. It's not like Deng is Thibs' favorite player, to the point of overuse...

    ...are worried that the "cheap" Bulls' FO (that sports the 3RD HIGHEST PAYROLL IN THE LEAGUE) will overpay Deng by a few million a year....

    ....I guess it's just me who doesn't understand?

  • In reply to Don Ellis:

    i'm thinking the Bulls will let Deng go so they can go after a player Rose wants. Both Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge want to play with Rose........same agency connection. There will be life after Deng and don't sleep on Snell, he looks like a 3D player with some handles......he probably won't score 16 points a game but should be a nice fit next to Rose.

  • In reply to Defense-Rebound13:

    You could very well be right, but I just can't see the Bulls' FO basing decisions on what their star player wants.... they didn't do it for MJ, and Rose is obviously no MJ.

  • In reply to Don Ellis:

    Winning cures almost all of the other problems! For players and fans. Rose will likely stay if the team is contending.

    As for Deng, like Doug analyzed a few weeks ago, where is the money for him? Rose and Taj get big increases next year. So will Boozer if he is still in Chicago. That eats up most of the money saved from letting Deng go. Plus the Bulls will need loot to extend Butler and bring Mirotic over. It is a numbers game.

    Would we rather have Butler and Mirotic? Or Deng? Even with a Boozer amnesty it would be tough to resign Deng, and it might cost them dearly down the road. We've been there, done that, remember? I like Deng, but it is a question of cost/value.

  • Winning cures all, just like you said. Plain and simple.

    I don't see any way Boozer isn't amnestied next summer, assuming the Bulls can't trade him for a non-guaranteed deal, or to a team with cap space to take at least most of his salary.

    And if it comes down to it, I believe 100% that they'll dump Taj for no incoming salary rather than let Deng walk. Even last year with Asik gone and Noah over-worked, Thibs still only played him 22.4 minutes, the most of his 3 years as coach. And the only time in 3 years that Thibs gave him more than 18 minutes/game in the playoffs was in 2012, but Noah missed 1/2 of those games- and Taj still only played 22 min/game.

    I expect the Bulls to amnesty Boozer, dump Taj (if necessary), and give Deng a front-loaded contract. That way his salary goes down yearly as Butler gets an extension and Mirotic gets a new contract after 3 seasons (I'm assuming he comes next summer for the full MLE or a little more for 3 seasons).

  • If they want a happy coach, they find a way to keep Deng. If not, there will be alot of tension between the front office & the coach.
    I think Don Ellis makes some solid points about Taj.'s playing time, or lack thereof.

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