Bulls players may miss Luol Deng, the team? Not so much

Bulls players may miss Luol Deng, the team?  Not so much

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].


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  • Bob McGinn, of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, refers to readily replaceable players as "just a guy". Maybe, in the end, that is all Deng is. He has above-average NBA skills in just about every category, with the exception on long-range shooting. Combine that with his way-above-average professionalism and the result is a very good NBA player. If he is the fourth best player on your team you are a championship contender. If he is your second best player, well you can't like your chances too much.

  • In reply to bjb57:

    Thank you, for years I have argued that Deng was the 4rth best player on a championship team, not the 2nd or even 3rd as the Bulls have tried to make him.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    He could probably be the third best on a team with a legit big 2 (ie, Lebron and some other dude notably better than Deng), but that's not really saying a whole lot.

  • Deng is what he is, a solid role player 3rd option. He would be good for 9-10 million a year on a contending team but he's not a dynamic impact player. It was time to move on but it does prove that Augustin is the most important player the Bulls have next to Noah and Gibson.

    2 years in a row and the most dynamic shotcreator/scorer the Bulls have had is on a veteran minimum deal. I don't know if this is something to be proud of or something which is downright depressing since Garpax doesn't put a premium on players that can create their own offense. They do seem to get good shooters/team guys like Dunleavy and Korver but for whatever reason, they strike out on shotcreating guards when it comes to free agency.

  • In reply to Defense-Rebound13:

    To be fair, it's not like there's been a bunch of shot creating guards tehy've passed up.

  • Well now that he's off the team and we're thinking about what we need next year, do we really need a defensive-minded, rebounding, hustling wing player with limited offensive skills? Or do we need a dynamic scoring wing player who can create his own shot?

  • In reply to Roman F:

    We clearly need the latter to pair with Jimmy Butler, whose offense has been pathetic since Deng left, or mostly this entire season. I sure hope that he is injured and that this is not the new normal. He has less lift these days than Charles Oakley in his return to the Bulls. He looks like he is playing with concrete pianos for shoes. Did he have a lower body transplant with boozer. did the Bulls crack medical staff mistake him for Luol Deng and amputate his turf toe just to be safe? What's up with Jimmy?

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Turf toe is an injury which typically lingers all year once you get it. Thibs playing him an assload of minutes every night can't be helping. I bet we see Jimmy more athletic next year, but I'm not sure how much it's really impacting his shooting which has taken a big nose dive.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Has his shooting taken a nose dive or just regressed to the mean? Declaring Jimmy being a three point shooter on the basis of 105 attempts last year always struck me as premature.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    I was wrong, BigWay! I thought when Boozer left you would run out of comedy material. Now I say, No Way!

    "He looks like he is playing with concrete pianos for shoes." Great line -- except that he plays for Chicago, of course.

    Various players took turns having great games: Booz, Rose, Deng, etc. Now two of them are gone for the year, and the Booz is out. How in the world have the Bulls gone 9-2? This sport is no as obvious as I would have thought.

    BTW, the FO sure knows how to find great Gs for the bench. That's a surprise because they can't seem to duplicate that with a backup C.

  • The situation with DJ is different from the situation with Nate. The Bulls could've offered Nate the same contract he got with Denver but that wouldn't have kept him here. There was simply no playing time for him in Chicago once Rose returned. He would share the 10-12 min a game Derrick wasn't on the floor with Hinrich. He opted to move on instead of moving to the end of the bench.

    With DJ there's no Kirk next year and unlike Nate it seems likely that he will share floor time alongside Derrick. You got it right when you said "right place, right time" with DJ. If he feels the same way it'll take a substantial offer to dislodge him from the place that resurrected his career to risk winding up lost in another rotation again.

    With that said, how much can the Bulls afford to match if he does get a fat offer? I'm not sure, but I'd be surprised if keeping him around weren't a priority.

  • In reply to Redwhitenblack:

    The Bulls will have much more financial flexibility to sign Augustin this summer than they did to sign either Nate or Belli last season. First and foremost, they will/should have actual cap space, even after Mirtotic. Secondly, they will again have access to the bi-annual exception which they didn't have last summer, and possibly the full MLE which they didn't have last summer either.

    Here's hoping that someone doesn't lose their mind and blow DJ away. I'd love to get him for Nate money, would you want him back for Hinrich money?

  • In reply to BigWay:

    I would agree with Doug. If I was on FO shoes, I would want to see a larger sample to make the final conclusion on keeping D.J.. As of now, he is a bargain and makes even D. Rose not so important, as I think he has shown to assist more than Rose. I still don't know why he disappeared last year on Indiana's playoff against Miami, and all reporters said that was the reason Indi lost (because of a weak bench). Was it because of the system Indiana runs?

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Yeah I would. I was thinking of Hinrich money as the upper bound of the Bulls offer. I don't think he'd see better elsewhere.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    They'll only have cap room or the exceptions, not both.

    You only get the exceptions if you are under the cap.

    Also, the Bulls could have offered Beli an extension starting at 105% of his last deal and got him in at a long term deal that way.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Great article, Doug. Your analysis was spot-on as usual.

    Your article (in the amnesty Boozer path) made it sound like the Bulls could sign Mirotic and then still use the MLE, that may have helped confuse Bigway. I'm not sure if you meant they could sign Mirotic and then have MLE-type money left over under the cap, or if you were referring to the Cap Room MLE.

    For the sake of your readers, there are three types of MLE (amounts for this offseason):
    Full MLE: $5,305,000
    Mini-MLE (for teams above the lux tax apron): $3,278,000
    Room MLE (for teams that used salary cap space to sign someone): $2,732,000

    When using salary cap $, teams lose the right to use the Bi-Annual, Bird Exceptions, and the full MLE. After using up their cap room, they can still use the Rookie Exception, the Minimum Player Salary Exception, and the Cap Room MLE (a mini-mini-MLE that's still better than the lost Bi-Annual).

  • In reply to Gringo Rican:

    Also, I thought that as soon as a team used cap room they lost all of the above mentioned exceptions to being above the salary cap. However, in Larry Coon's FAQ (#26), he says that teams can renounce them individually.
    For teams under the cap, all of their exceptions are added back into their salary, effectively putting them back over the cap. In order to use cap space to sign a FA, teams have to renounce these exceptions to remove their cap hold. However, they apparently can renounce just enough exceptions to get their signing done, and don't necessarily have to renounce all of them.

  • In reply to Redwhitenblack:

    D.J. has not made much money in his career.

    He will (and should) go to the highest bidder in free agency.

    The Bulls don't have any type of bird rights on Augustin, so he has to either sign with an exception or the Bulls need to sign him with cap space.

    I think that will make it tough, if they don't amnesty Boozer, the MLE has to go to Mirotic which means only the LLE is left for Augustin.

    If they do amnesty Boozer you've got more room to match but then might end up using nearly 100% of your cap room on Augustin and Mirotic.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    What is the LLE? The Bi-Annual?

  • The realization that Deng is just a role player (a very good role player, but still a role player), along with Bulls recent success signing productive players at or near minimum salary, begs the question:

    Who is really worth paying substantial salary?
    - elite shot creators who can take over a game
    - quality bigs
    - ??? suggestions ???

    Bulls have overpaid a number of players who were/are not true difference-makers, and the harsh fact is there are simply not very many difference-makers in the NBA. GM Danny Ainge laments the shortage of difference-makers at the end of this interview:

  • In reply to Edward:

    Doug and Edward, I just want to remind you that it is always dangerous to call Deng a role player(good or otherwise) you risk being called lots of names. Can you take the heat.

  • In reply to Edward:

    I sort of agree and sort of disagree.

    The problem si that there are a very limited subset of elite shot creators and quality bigs.

    After that, you still have to pay someone, so the next best guys get paid big money. Everyone complains those guy are overpaid, but the reality is that teh elite shot creators are underpaid due to the max salary rule, and so the extra money just goes to the next group of guys.

    You'd always prefer to pay elite players, but when you can't what is your alternative? Build a very good team (like Chicago) around the next best guys you can or just keep signing guys to short term low salary deals and being god awful?

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Why does a team have to pay someone else? If i am the gm, i am perfectly ok constructing a team with 2-3 players over 10 mil and everyone else less than 5 mil. The contribution differences between a 4 mil and a 9 mil players is just not that much, so why waste money and cap space? This way you will always have cap space for a really good FA

  • In reply to handushk:

    Two problems:
    1) The FO of the Bulls cannot find good pieces for all positions for under $5 million, only the Gs;
    2) They won't get an elite player for, say, $15 million, unless he is drafted! And, depending on Rose, at this point the Bulls need one or two more elite players. They only have Noah and maybe Rose.

  • In reply to Edward:

    Partly this is just basketball. There's only five players on the court, and there's a short supply of tall people and an even shorter supply of coordinated tall people, so the few genetic freaks like LeBron are always going to tip the balance.

    It's compounded by the way the NBA salary structure is set up, unless you get productive guys on rookie contracts or true max players you're nearly always overpaying. The marginal return on your $$$s spent above the minimum salary is terrible.

    I think the conclusion is it doesn't really matter who you spend your money on, unless you have one of the best guys in the game you don't increase your chances that much using one strategy over the other.

    You can of course not spend money and tank trying to get such a player, but that doesn't always pay out either. Even if you do get lucky to get the right pick in the right draft, there's no guarantee you get a Tim Duncan who stays with your team. LeBron is winning championships in Miami not Cleveland, Shaq didn't win them for Orlando.

    In short basketball sucks to be a fan most of the time, most teams have no hope, and I wish I realised this before getting into it. :p

  • In reply to Shakes:

    Good analysis!

  • Small sample size, but so far the loss of Deng is playing out exactly as expected. No impact whatsoever, other than depth. Obviously, we are in the weakest part of our schedule and I don't expect to continue winning at this rate. Especially since Butler, Noah, DJ and Taj will certainly start breaking down playing 40 plus minutes every night.

    Pretty much the definition of a run of the mill, ordinary, non descript everyday role player who can be replaced by any other such player without changing the results of the team. Apparently, the proof is in the pudding not in the coaches voting for the reserve allstar selections.

    By the way this same thing that will happen when we amnestitize the BozoHole, except that we will improve in every facet of the game that benefits from actually trying.

  • If the team plays better or just as good when you are gone how good can you really be? Deng is vastly overrated and I am glad to be free of him and his soon to be untradeable albatross of a contract. I will laugh at the next GM dumb enough to give this guy close to 15 mil per year.

    DJ Augustin is good but yeah he will likely get a payday and flounder like the rest of the former Bulls vet min Guards. It sad because it shows just how devoid they are of serious offensive talent when your best offensive players are frequently random NBA castoffs willing to take the minimum.

    Good point Doug on Rose. He could be given the role is featured in our offense but he did well under another coach too would be my counter. I am almost at the point where I have a hard time argueing against trading him for a top two pick in the draft. Cut our losses and move on. Can you ever count on him to be the old Rose? Can you ever count on him to stay healthy? Or would it be better to free up his salary by trading for Embiid or Jabari Parker and be done with the Rose saga. At this point it is a legit question you don't want to be the Magic who held onto Penny Hardaway too long and after his knee surgeries he was never the same player.

  • In reply to Chad:

    If we could get a top pick in this draft I'd trade Rose in a heartbeat, but there's no way in hell a team is giving us a top pick for Rose. Not when he's due so much money, is halfway through his career and may never recover.

    In a crappy draft? Perhaps. Not in one with guys who look like potential stars though.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    A top pick, or the top pick. Are there multiple guys that you would trade Rose for. Embiid, Wiggins, Parker? Obviously, the only reason it is even a consideration is the injuries, but it is still a big bird in the hand type risk.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    If available would you trade Rose for Rondo?

  • In reply to do53:

    How many years left on Rondo's contract?

  • I agree with almost everything being said today about Deng and about DJ. Deng's value also has been elevated with his consistancy as a quality player with a combination of many good things that separate him from the average good player--consistant playing on both ends of the flloor, consistant scoring and rebounding, leadership, dignity, and character on the floor and in the locker room. With great character, good health, high minutes played and having a superior attitude he is and was an ambassador of the sport for Chicago. He earned what many of us have never achieved as athletes.So how much he will get paid even by Chicago or another team is irrelevant and only significant to any team's bottom line.
    After my ideal trade goes through gentlemen--that is the deadline trade for Anthony--can the Bulls tear up any contract they have with Augustin and re-do it--giving him a significant pay raise while the price for him is rather cheap and while his abilities and performance are still questionable? Can anyone out there give an answer to this?

  • Bulls will need a backup PB next year. If not D.J., who would be? Kirk is gone.

  • In reply to BullsDynasty:

    If a trade goes through for Anthony maybe Beno Udrih could added and be the pg for the rest of this year, if not James.

  • I bet the Bulls can get Kirk to return at the minimum next year or maybe for twice as much--I'd like to also see him retire as a Bull and even be a player coach for his position. Without Kirk's leadership I sometimes wonder if Rose would have been as effective without Kirk's assistance during those two years.

  • I think Deng's problem is despite his scoring totals, he's probably a slightly net negative offensive player. He doesn't shoot the 3 well enough to provide spacing, he's a good defender but not the type that creates fast break points, and the rest of his offensive skill set is average but not stand out.

    I've been saying it for years but I think Deng is misused as a three in today's NBA, he's a small ball four. At the four his lack of three point shooting matters less, instead his mid range game to draw a defender out of the paint becomes a plus. He's also quick enough to actually drive on some of the players he'd be matched up against. He's a solid enough rebounder that I don't think you give up much in that area - Deng could probably average near double figure rebounds if played as a PF. He's not a shot blocker sure, but how many PFs are these days? Most teams are only playing a single genuine rim protector at center anyway.

    Unfortunately I doubt he'll get the chance to play that role on the Cavs, who similar to the Bulls, already have enough guys there and are short on the wings. Will be interesting to see where he goes next, I'd love to see him play the Shawn Marion role in some up tempo offense.

  • In reply to Shakes:

    You have some very creative and good ideas on how to use him, but isn't he too small for a four? Wouldn't he have to take a beating on most nights?

  • In reply to penwit1:

    He's 6'9", that's probably about average height for a PF - as tall as Gibson or Boozer. In terms of bulk it's hard to say since the listed weight of players tends to be from their rookie season and never updated ... but he doesn't look significantly smaller than Marion from his Suns days.

    Obviously in terms of taking a beating that's always a question. He's lead the league in MPG twice, cut him back to more normal minutes to offset the extra workload of playing the 4 (and an up tempo system).

  • In reply to Shakes:

    I doubt that Deng is actually 6'9", especially since both Gibson and Boozer are only 6'7.75". Even if he is, I don't see him as a full time PF, he might be able to play it for a few minutes a game against teams that play small ball lineups, but then he is probably still guarding a SF who happens to be playing PF.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Draft measurements for both Boozer and Gibson have them at 6'9.5" and 6'9.75" respectively. Deng measured 6'8" at the draft but was supposedly grew an inch since then. In any case his standing reach (which is probably more important than height) at the draft was pretty similar to those two.

    People didn't see Marion as a full time PF until the Suns made it happen. I think prime Marion is a decent comparison for Deng in a lot of ways: below average but not terrible 3 point shooter (their career percentages are both almost spot on 1 make per 3 attempts), good rebounders for a SF, play heavy minutes, can contribute on the offensive end but not create much for themselves, known as a "glue guy". Obviously Marion was more athletic, but I think Deng having legit length to play PF makes up for it.

    Worth noting that Marion had his only really efficient offensive years playing PF in that Suns offense, before and after he's been like Deng at SF - scores a decent volume at average or worse efficiency. Put him in an up tempo offense with a mismatch at PF and he put up legit all-star numbers.

    Who knows if Deng could have gotten the same boost ... probably we'll never know, the alternate universe where the Bulls didn't sign Boozer and moved Deng to the 4 never happened.

  • In reply to Shakes:

    I always go by their measurements with no shoes, since that is your real height and the only way to legitimately compare 2 guys, both Gibson and boozer were 6'7.75" without shoes at the official NBA draft camp. I suspect that Deng was something somewhat less than that. Likewise, Noah clocked in at 6'10.5" not 7 ft.

  • I think if Deng was coming out now he would be drafted as a 4. How much different is he than Anthony Bennett? Yes Bennett weighs more but its not good weight and Deng is an inch taller than him. (According to Google) Carmelo has been more effective playing the 4 and Deng is roughly the same size as him. I do agree that in today's NBA he would be a more ideal 4 instead of a 3.

  • The Bulls haven't missed Deng so much because just before Deng got traded DJ was starting to get comfortable in our system and playing really well. Having a point guard that can actually shoot and run the pick and roll makes a big difference.

    Would the Bulls have played as well as they did in the past two and a half weeks if their point guard rotation was Hinrich, James and Teague? Would the Bulls have played the same if DJ was playing as well as he did the past three weeks and we still had Deng? Bear in mind, our wing rotation has looked pretty pathetic since we traded Deng:

    Butler (8 games): 12.25 pts (13 fga) on an abysmal 41.8% TS%, 5.25 reb, 3 ast, 2.25 stl and 2 tov in around 43 mpg.

    Dunleavy (9 games): 12.4 pts (11 fga) on a mediocre 54.3% TS%, 3.5 reb, 2.1 ast, 0.8 stl and 1.6 tov in around 30 mpg.

    Snell (9 games): 7.5 pts (6.7 fga) on a mediocre 53.7% TS%, 2.5 reb, 1.1 ast, 0.5 stl and 0.6 tov in around 22 mpg.

    The main reason why the Bulls haven't missed Deng that much was the stellar play of DJ and (consequently) Noah and it has nothing to do with Deng being gone. The spacing argument is a weak one considering the fact that we could easily have had better spacing than we do now by simply replacing Butler ( who has been shooting 17% from 3 since Deng is gone) with Deng (who shot 27% for us this season).

  • Exactly. For the pleasure of renting DJ for one year the Bulls essentially give up their opportunity to land a difference maker in the draft. Was getting DJ a good move? You decide.

  • In reply to hgarbell:

    Yes getting DJ was a great move this year otherwise the Bulls would be unwatchable! I loved Nate and wish we would have kept him but as was said with the assumption Rose would be here the whole year and we were to have serious championship asperations THIS YEAR...with Kirk getting $4M and being a combo guard and Nate being 5'9" and being a combo guard or more scoring guard, also with having Teague still then...maybe even Snell having some PG ability even at 6'7" with that huge 7 foot wingspan of his...could see where Denver welcomed Nate and paid him and wanted him!

    This year with Rose going down yet again and playing so little the past few years and their being real concerns he will ever be the #1 option and even coming close to living to his expectations and salary...and the Bulls lacking so badly in offense and offensive attackers and making Lucas aka: Carlton from the Fresh Prince show, Nate, and other small PG that have a huge heart and aren't afraid to jack of shoots....very good chance the Bulls offer DJ a decent contract of $2-3M/yr 2-3 yr to be Rose's backup, Kirk at his older age and failing body can be had for minimum-$2.3M/yr 2 year and retire a Bull and be an assistance coach! :-)

  • In reply to smiley:

    Thibs and the FO decided they would rather have Dunleavy than Belli -- rumors being, as I recall, that Thibs wanted Dunleavy. Once Rose went down, it did not really matter.

    Unless the Bulls are feeling charitable, they should not resign Kirk at any price!

    If they were feeling charitable, how about showing it to us fans and either 1) getting us an elite player, or 2) getting us a high draft pick? Or both! We are paying everyone's salaries on the Bulls, we deserve something!

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