We all saw Luol Deng in that hideous yellow uniform last night and wondered, did this game settle a debate amongst Bulls fans? Luol Deng, the ultimate glue guy or an over-rated non-impact player?
His pedestrian shooting percentages and inability to create his own shot were argued by doubters against his defense, rebounding, and hustle. The Cavaliers and Bulls have both played better since the trade. For the Cavaliers, the reason for this is fairly obvious. They got themselves a real professional, veteran, player.
For the Bulls? It's somewhat befuddling. Looking at Tony Snell and Jimmy Butler's output since the trade it's hard to argue they've outplayed in relief of him. The schedule has certainly been softer, but no softer than it was when the Bulls were losing to Milwaukee and Utah while Butler was out and Deng was in.
My theory? The Bulls offense is running smoother without Deng. His penchant for long twos, poor three point shooting this season, and high volume of attempts wasn't doing the Bulls any good. Replacing that with players like D.J. Augustin who have been able to create shots better, and players like Snell and Dunleavy who space the floor better has led to an improvement in offense.
Deng's defense/rebounding? Well, the Bulls are pretty darn good at those things even without him. While Butler/Snell may not be picking up Luol's offense, other guys are, and they're able to maintain his level of defense. In short, Deng leaving doesn't necessarily prove either side of the argument right in terms of whether Deng's a difference maker.
However, it certainly looks like he wasn't a difference maker here. The Bulls were loaded with what he brings and are still severely lacking what he doesn't. A team like Cleveland that needs what he brings is getting the benefit of his play.
What this really shows is that the Bulls management needs to find ways to diversify their talent. They've proven they can find quality players in the draft who can make an impact defensively. They need to prove they can find quality players who can create their own shot.
Is D.J. Augustin's playing his way out of a Bulls uniform?
The Bulls will have interesting off-season discussions to decide what they're going to do. Do they amnesty Carlos Boozer and play for cap room? They'll likely have to use most of it on Nikola Mirotic and only have the MLE left. They could then add Augustin back with cap room if they want or try to bring in another mid tier player.
They could keep Boozer in order to facilitate a trade instead, try to bring Mirotic over with the MLE, and then look to sign D.J. with the Bi-Annual exception (two years 4 million issue). Will Augustin have earned more than that exception with his play this year? Perhaps. Nate Robinson signed for about that amount after a great year, and I'm not sure Augustin has proven any more than Nate did.
If I'm a team looking for a PG, I'm thinking that D.J. Augustin might look like an MLE type player the way he's playing for the Bulls right now. He looks like he has good vision, creates his own shot, and has an excellent outside shot. They'll have to weigh his second half performance with Chicago against what he's done the rest of his career and guess whether his play will continue.
Much like with Nate Robinson, teams will likely be a bit conservative with how much they offer Augustin in case this second half of the season was simply the right guy in the right place. This Bulls team has made all kinds of small scoring guards look like stars only to see them not replicate that performance elsewhere.
It's uniquely built to maximize the skills of such a player, and one can only wonder if Derrick Rose may also be over inflated [even when healthy] in our eyes because of that.
D.J. Augustin may be the the Anti-Deng. He's the guy who has all the skills Chicago desperately needs and so he looks much better here than he would anywhere else while as noted above, Deng's loss has made basically no impact at all except a lack of depth.
Above the water line
The Chicago Bulls climbed to 21-20, the first time they've been above .500 since dipping below after the Derrick Rose injury. They're tired with Toronto for 4th in the East and look pretty solid.
This is a team that looks like it could win a playoff series this season if they continue to stay healthy with their key players [Joakim, Augustin, Taj, and Butler].