Deng is Dangerously Efficient With Healthy Boozer and Noah

Luol Deng's per game averages are lower with Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah playing, but -- as expected -- his efficiency data trends way upward with better looks on shots.

deng heat gw 3.jpg

The Bulls are 16-4 (.750) with Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah in the only 20 games they've played together; 35-15 (.700) in games where at least one of the two were unable to play due to injury or illness.

I'm not claiming to reinvent the wheel with the common sense hypothesis that with Boozer and Noah healthy, Luol Deng's gets better looks and, therefore, more buckets and points per shot. The three frontcourt players now having played 20 games together is producing some early data toward a conclusion that Deng will be a vital offensive force for the remainder of this season and beyond with his starting bigs healthy.

I imported Deng's entire game log to a spreadsheet and separated the 20 games in which Boozer and Noah played from the 50 in which one of the two were injured just to se what quick data would come out of it. Obviously, Deng's volume decreases, but not significantly, while he elevates from a volume scoring second option to potentially dangerous offensive weapon as option #2A -- so to speak -- for the Bulls [enlarge]:
deng healthy help splits.JPG

data though games played 3/22

If what I immediately caught didn't jump off the page for you, I'll make it jump for you:

deng noahbooz splits.png
Though Deng's shots go down, his shot location doesn't only shift to the outside, but his efficiency from downtown skyrockets his all-around offensive game into the realm of an elite 3-point sniper. Tom Thibodeau highlighted that the presence of Boozer as a low-post ninja opens up perimeter shooters for high-percentage 3s after Tuesday's win in Atlanta, but add in the need to aggressively box out a board-crashing ninja like Noah and the Bulls put their opponents' in a self-destructive pick-your-poison game.
Deng isn't the sole long-range beneficiary of the healthy bigs. In March, the Bulls are shooting 37.6% on 21.8 3-point attempts per game, compared to their overall 36.3% on 17.3 attempts over the course of the entire season to this point. Add in that 63.5% of the Bulls' baskets in March have been assisted, compared to 59.1 throughout the overall season, we're seeing a trend of a more efficient, more selective, yet higher volume catch n' shoot emerging, in general -- despite Boozer missing five of their 12 games and Noah missing one of those. In fact, that one game without either of the two bigs, the Bulls hit 12-of-32 (37.5%) 3s against the Wizards, so the correlation extends to more strategic variety, overall.
The Bulls are currently 12th in offense with a slightly-above-average 108.0 rating and that efficiency rating's been rising, as expected, since Noah returned Feb. 23 from missing 30 games after hand surgery. The Bulls defeating their last two opponents by a total of 73 points on Monday and Tuesday -- the latter being a spotlight game on national TV -- has many analysts scrutinizing early theories that the Bulls' offense is too much a relative liability when the defenses get tougher in the playoffs.
There's also the aspect of the game that bigs playing big boy basketball down low manipulates the spacing to open up game-changing long-range shooting. Whether this trend over a small sample size will comparably carry over into the playoffs is yet to be seen, but if the trend continues throughout the remainder of the regular season, the argument for the Bulls as the team to beat in the East gets stronger.
Not to mention, that there's no reason to rule out the Bulls' elite 99.9-rated defense getting tougher to keep them in every game, despite periodical or constant offensive sputtering. The added efficiency of Deng's volume will be needed as a momentum-shifting run-stopper to create the inflection points on which the Bulls will need to capitalize and win playoff series' -- plural.
Additional notes:
  • Deng doesn't get to the FT line often (only 4.3 FTAs per game, shooting 75.3%) as it is and those trips go down to 3.2 per game with Boozer and Noah. Considering that his two-point attempts go down in that same sample from 10.9 to 8.3 per game add to that argument that he's getting better looks from long-range per touch and has more room to create scoring opportunities off the ball, as opposed to bowling through people from the wings. Remember that Thibs has him attacking the rim when he's tightly defended and shooting with space; and that Boozer and Noah add space, therefore, Deng's FTAs shouldn't be expected to rise.
  • With Boozer and Noah, Deng's RPG dips from 6.4 without at least one of them to 4.5 with both of them. His rebounding is generally low as it is (5.8 RPG this season), but this is largely due to his role as the primary perimeter helper and third man backing up the help on dribble penetration. With Boozer and Noah, those two do enough to take rebounds from each other, let alone the rest of the team. And, again, less slashing and less need for him to play power forward takes him further from the rim on both ends of the floor.
  • Raising Deng's lower PPG with Boozer and Noah as a rebuttal is doing it wrong. I get it and will give the benefit of the doubt that this analysis is misinterpreted because just about every sports editor in Chicago consistently ignores the value of eFG%. It's not your fault as a consumer of the game and various coverage of it that these editors favor being trite over being right, if they aren't just too ignorant or lazy to attempt better understanding the game.

    FYI, eFG% is "Effective Field Goal Percentage; the formula is (FG + 0.5 * 3P) / FGA. This statistic adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal. For example, suppose Player A goes 4 for 10 with 2 threes, while Player B goes 5 for 10 with 0 threes. Each player would have 10 points from field goals, and thus would have the same effective field goal percentage (50%)."

Advanced Stats via Basketball-Reference.

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  • Awesome breakdown. Its fun learning how this team is fitting together with their respective roles as it is so new

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