The NBA announced the All-Defensive teams for this season, and the league's best defense -- the Chicago Bulls -- had a recipient, but it wasn't the player many thought would represent the defense that ranked first in opponents' field-goal and three-point percentage during the regular season.
The Bulls defense was also second in opponents points and own rebounds. There's no coincidence that the Bulls' success had a lot to do with the hiring of Tom Thibodeau, who was named Coach of the Year earlier this month.
On Monday, the Bulls got another award for their achievements -- to go along with the MVP in Derrick Rose and Coach of the Year in Thibodeau -- as Joakim Noah was named to the All-Defensive second team.
Rajon Rondo, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard were named to the All-Defensive (first) team. The second team consisted of Chris Paul, Tony Allen, Andre Iguodala, former Bull Tyson Chandler and current Bulls center Noah.
It's always good to be honored by the NBA, and the Bulls will take it. But the consensus for a while has been that the player who will represent the Bulls on this team will be Luol Deng.
Deng didn't have his best season statistically -- averaging 17 points and six rebounds -- but he's told reporters throughout the season that he felt this year was his best in the NBA. For a player who's been criticized so heavily the past few seasons, it was definitely good to see Deng play all 82 games this season and be a major contributor to a team that won an NBA-best 62 games.
Though the Bulls defense has been all about teamwork, giving help to one another, it's been Deng all season who's been given the task to check the opposing team's best player when it matters. It's Deng who's spending time on Atlanta Hawks guard Joe Johnson late in games, or Danny Granger prior to this series. He's been asked to be the stopper all season.
"Lu can guard small forwards, power
forwards, shooting guards," Thibodeau said on Sunday to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. "I always had a lot of
respect for the way he played. And I always thought he was a complete
player. What I didn't understand until I got here was how great of a
leader he is. He can handle big minutes. We ask him to do everything,
whether it's a tough perimeter cover, scoring, rebounding, playmaking."
In no way should we take away anything from Noah's accomplishment, but even he'll say this achievement was one that Deng deserved, should be recognized for. The Bulls have asked Deng to be their version of Ron Artest on defense all season, containing the LeBron James', Carmelo Anthony's of the world. Doesn't his success show by the Bulls' defense statistically?
Noah has always been a great interior defender, and this season was no different. However, his defensive numbers were actually down from last season.
In 2009-10, Noah averaged 11 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 64 games. This season, he averaged 10.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 48 games. Yes, the drop off in both stats isn't significant, though the difference in games is huge.
Joakim's a fan favorite, but this recognition was for Deng, who finished 16 in the All-Defensive team voting. He's worked hard on the defensive end all season -- for him to come up short, be held award-less in what he called his best season in the NBA, is very disappointing.
The Bulls got recognized for having the league's top defense in the regular season, and even had Rose rank 11 in the voting, but it went to the wrong player. Noah's the Bulls defensive anchor on the interior, but it all starts with Deng on the perimeter. He was there for all 82 games. Noah was not.
Even Noah would agree: Deng got snubbed.