The Bulls finally returned home after a nine-game road trip — the team’s longest since the 1992-93 season — and gutted out a victory that gave them a league-best 24 wins and earned Tom Thibodeau the chance to coach the 2012 Eastern Conference All-Star team.
Fortunately, this Bulls squad only let the Kings get to within two points (117-115) with 14 seconds left. From that point, Kyle Korver and Luol Deng closed things out at the free throw line.
That was a little too close for comfort, even without Derrick Rose.
In the NBA, the first game back home after an extended road trip is a notorious trap game. And the Bulls nearly fell into that trap head first. The offense was clicking — Chicago finished with 121 points on 52.4 percent shooting and racked up 33 assists on 44 made field goals — but the defense this team is known for was last seen in Charlotte. Current whereabouts: Unknown.
One game after giving up 33 fast break points to a Celtics team most frequently referred to as “aging,” the Bulls were shelled by the Kings, DeMarcus Cousins (28 points, 10-for-20, 17 rebounds), Tyreke Evans (27 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists), and Marcus Thornton (23 points) in particular. The Kings scored 17 fast break points and ended up with 54 points in the paint. They also grabbed 17 offensive boards and earned 28 free throw attempts.
And a season-high 115 points surrendered? On average, Bulls opponents are scoring a meager 84.1 PPG in Chicago. And the Kings are averaging only 89.4 outside of Sacramento.
What in the name of Stormin’ Norm Van Lier is going on here?
Said Deng: “I just think with their pick and roll we didn’t do a good job of just coming in and the guards helping out. We were too spread out. Normally when we play we kind of pack in in the paint. The last two games, we’re not really happy with our defense. We’ve got to get back to that.”
Added Joakim Noah: “Our defense has been mediocre at best the last two games. So there’s a lot of things we’ve got to clean up.”
Yeah. Some defense would be nice. Especially if Rose continues to sit out with his bad back.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. After a rough outing in Boston, Deng played like the All-Star he is. He didn’t shoot particularly well (6-for-17), but he went 9-for-9 from the line, finishing with 23 points and a career-high 11 assists. Joakim Noah had a fantastic game (22 points, 7-for-11, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 assists), although he finished with a plus-minus score of -10. Korver blew up for 18 points off the bench while shooting 5-for-7 from the field and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc. Taj Gibson (15 points on 7-for-8 shooting) was dynamite on offense and John Lucas III finally finished with more assists (9) than shot attempts (8).
But the defensive effort? I’d say it was terrible if there’d been one.
Still, a win is a win, especially with Rose and Richard Hamilton still out. Especially when 20 of the team’s 31 games have been on the road. Especially with the lockout-shortened schedule.
Said Thibs: “We’ll take ‘em any way we can get ‘em. We found a way to win and over the course of the season, you have to win in different ways. Obviously our defense needs a lot of work but overall I am pleased with the win.”
The “any win is a good win” philosophy is comforting. But then you see the Miami Heat finishing off their back-to-back-to-back stretch with a 105-90 win in Indiana, and you can’t help but feel a sense of dread. The Heat seem to be getting stronger. The Bulls — largely due to Rose’s injury — seem to be getting weaker.
That could change if the team’s starting backcourt returns. But there’s no clue as to when that could be. Rose is still day-to-day. Ditto for Rip Hamilton (right thigh and groin), who at least rejoined the team following the death of his grandmother.
As they say: It is what it is.
Said Deng: “I think the best thing you can do is try to get better from it. If we had a choice, we wouldn’t want [Rose] to be hurt, but that’s the situation. We really think that it will help us. Guys are stepping up. Guys are getting playing time. We’d rather have this problem now than later in the year.”
The Bulls will play their first home game since January 27, when they take on the Kings tonight in their return to the United Center.
Chicago is back home after a nine game road trip on which they went 6-3. It ended on a low note, losing to the Celtics on Sunday. That may have been expected, as the Bulls lost all of their games to teams with winning records (Miami, Philadelphia and Boston).
Without their starting backcourt, the Bulls didn’t have enough firepower to top Boston on the road. And really it was a night to forget for Luol Deng (3-12) and C.J. Watson (8-23).
But there is a lot of blame to go around. As a team, the Bulls shot 38.6 percent from the field while allowing Boston to shoot 49.3 percent.
At multiple times in the final minutes Carlos Boozer looked more out of place than a water in Lindsay Lohan’s fridge. But at the same time, he was one of the few people who were actually scoring to keep the Bulls close. This is the problem the Bulls face without Rose. If he isn’t getting to the rim and scoring, or gift wrapping shots for his teammates, the Bulls really struggle to score, especially against good defenses like the Celtics.
The Bulls are expected to be without Rose and Rip Hamilton tonight as well, according to ESPN Chicago. I’m starting to think we might not see the masked man for a while, and in all honesty, they both might as well take off until after the All-Star break. It isn’t worth it to rush back (even though Rip is doing anything but rushing back).
The Bulls really shouldn’t need those two guys against Sacramento, though. The Kings are 27th in offensive and defensive rating, 29th in effective field goal percentage and 26th in opponent effective field goal percentage.
When these two teams met in December in what was the third game of the season for both, Rose only played 32 minutes due to foul trouble. C.J. Watson didn’t shoot great (3-7), but had nine assists and five rebounds in his 16 minutes backing up Rose. It would really help the Bulls if Watson redeemed himself from an 8-23 performance against the Celtics.
Rose scored 19 and Hamilton scored 16 in the first matchup, so the Bulls will be without 35 points. But that’s what John Lucas is for, right?
Road woes: Sacramento is scoring ten fewer points on the road than compared to home, which would partly explain their 3-12 road record. Tonight is the first night of a six game eastern road-trip for the Kings. Sacramento doesn’t have a home game until after the All-Star break.
Run-away: Sacramento is seventh in the league in fast break points scoring 16.2 points per game. Against the Celtics, Chicago gave up 33 fast break points, while only scoring seven of their own on the break. Boston averages 11.2 fast break points per game this season, 22nd in the league.
Bulls general manager Gar Forman Monday said the Bulls got good news — or at least as good as could be hoped for now — regarding Derrick Rose’s back problems.
Specialists Rose consulted Monday told the Bulls Rose doesn’t have any structural issues with his back, that it is spasms and they could disappear as quickly as they came.
Said Forman: “It really is day to day. He met with specialists. They reviewed the MRI and all the information. It’s what we thought all along. Nothing structural. It’s muscular. He’ll continue with therapy and rest. There is no timetable. He’s basically having back spasms. It might be tomorrow (when it eases) or three days. The good thing is there’s nothing structurally wrong. He’ll continue with the therapy as is.”
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to mop up my worried sweat off the floor.
As a recreational basketball player, I can tell you that back spasms are killer. It’s hard to get out of bed. It’s hard to stand up straight. It’s hard to walk across the room. Forget playing NBA basketball. It’s nearly impossible to even shoot a basketball.
But the crazy thing is this: you can be in nearly crippling pain from the back spasms and then just wake up one day and…POOF! They’re gone.
Now we just have to wait for Derrick’s POOF.
In the meantime, I doubt Rose will play at home tonight against the Kings. After that game, the Bulls face the Celtics in the United Center on Thursday night and have three more home games (Nets, Hawks, Bucks) before the All-Star break.
The Bulls should be able to win at least three of those contests without Rose (Kings, Nets, Bucks) and might even be able to beat the Celts or Hawks too. There’s really no sense in rushing Rose back into action. I’d rather wait for a fully healthy D-Rose than to have him miss any additional games down the road because he came back too soon.
Joakim Noah: ”There’s no excuses. We’re 6-3 on this road trip. We want to be a championship team. And to be a championship team, it’s OK, but it’s not great. Obviously, we’re not playing with our MVP, but there’s definitely enough in this room to win a game like tonight. But I feel like today, we got out-competed.”
C.J. Watson: ”We just looked a little sluggish, came out a little slow.”
Derrick Rose: ”Our energy wasn’t there. We didn’t pick up our energy to the full court.”
Those are the kind of quotes you expect from a no-excuses team like the Bulls.
And they sure could have made some excuses. If they had a mind to.
After all, this was the final stop on a nine-game road trip, the team’s 20th roadie in 30 games this season. They were also playing without their starting backcourt, which just happens to include reigning MVP Derrick Rose.
Then there was Rajon Rondo. Oh my goodness there was Rondo.
I don’t know whether he was embarrassed by his team’s back-to-back losses to the Lakers and Raptors, or expressing his righteous anger about not making the All-Star team, or gunning to show the world he’s every bit as good or better than Rose. Whatever the case, Rondo played like a man among boys: 32 points (11-for-22, from the field and 10-for-13 from the line), 15 assists, 10 rebounds, 2 steals.
Said Boston’s JuJuan Johnson: ”Oh, man, he played great. I don’t think anyone expects anything less from him. The way he played today, he’s a great player — obviously. Best point guard in the league, and he played great.”
Best point guard in the league? Really? As Kenny Smith might say: “Is Derrick Rose dead?”
Rose isn’t dead, but he isn’t playing either, thanks to a back injury that is being called “stiffness.” It’s so stiff, in fact, that Rose is scheduled to see a back specialist today.
Bulls fans can start sweating bullets right…now.
Without Rose creating opportunities for his teammates, and with the Boston defense turning the screws, the Bulls were held to 38 percent shooting. It was ugly. Check out some of these shooting numbers:
Kyle Korver: 1-for-5.
Taj Gibson: 1-for-6.
John Lucas III: 3-for-9.
Luol Deng: 3-for-12.
C.J. Watson: 8-for-23.
Bottom line: The Bulls simply did not or could not get many clean looks at the basket.
Then there was the Bulls’ defense. Check out this stat: The Celtics — aging Big Three and all — finished the game with an unbelievable 33 fast break points.
And yet, thanks largely to the late-game efforts of Carlos Boozer (22 points, 9-for-16, 7 rebounds) and Joakim Noah (16 points, 6-for-10, 9 rebounds), the Bulls were one misdirected three-pointer by Watson from tying the game with 22 seconds left.
The Bulls could have played better. No question. But on the last game of a nine-game road trip without the best player?
I’d say they competed.
But they were a step slow. Maybe two steps. Hence all the transition points they gave up. That was disappointing.
What was also disappointing was the performance of Deng. If this game served notice that Rondo may have suffered an All-Star snub, it was also something of an indictment of Deng’s selection. Lu held Paul Pierce to 9 points on 4-for-10 shooting, but with Rose out, the Bulls needed more than 10 points on 12 shots from their first-time All-Star.
Said Deng: ”It’s the way the game went. I know I need to be more aggressive, but I didn’t want to hunt shots or chase down shots out there.”
Then too there was that potential game-tying shot by Watson, which seemed like a curious (and possibly poorly thought out) attempt given the circumstances. After all, the Bulls were coming out of a timeout with 27 seconds left in the game. Five seconds later, C.J. lofted an off-balance three while fading away from the basket.
That’s the best shot the Bulls could have gotten in that situation?
Said Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau: “[Watson] makes those shots. I’m not going to second-guess that. I want him to be aggressive, and he was. I didn’t have a problem with that.”
Okay. Fair enough.
Still, there are worries piling up. How badly is Rose hurt? Will Rip Hamilton ever be healthy? Is Deng’s wrist starting to become an issue again? And, although we know they can crush bad teams, can the Bulls beat the good ones? As ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell pointed out, the Bulls went 6-3 on their road trip…six up against sub-.500 teams and three down against plus-.500 teams.
What’s more, a look at the expanded standings shows us that the Bulls are 17-1 against losing teams and only 6-6 against winning teams. In contrast, the Miami Heat are 10-4 against teams .500 and above and Oklahoma City is 12-4 against such teams.
Legit concerns? Or worrying for nothing?
Said Boozer: “I don’t think we’re far from where we want to be. I think we’re right there, but it would be good to get healthy a little bit and get some of the guys that we’re missing back. It will be good to be back in Chicago and get some home-cooked meals, sleep in our own beds, and play some home games at the UC.”
Maybe Boozington is right. Maybe the Bulls just need a little better health and a few more games at home.
For the last few games, the Bulls schedule was easier to beat than NBC’s spring line-up. But Chicago will finally have a real test Sunday, as they take on the Celtics in Boston.
This game will also mark the end of Chicago’s season long nine game road trip. The Bulls have gone 6-2 thus far, but their wins haven’t been too impressive. They beat Washington, New York, Milwaukee, New Jersey, New Orleans and Charlotte, while losing to their two true tests, Miami and Philadelphia. A 6-2 record is pretty good, but it would have been great if the Bulls could have stolen one of those tough games on the road.
Chicago beat Boston earlier this season in the TD Garden. Per usual, the Bulls were without Rip Hamilton, but this was when Ronnie Brewer was picking up his slack. Brewer went 5-7 from the field for 12 points to go with four rebounds, four assists and three steals. But in the last ten games, Brewer is shooting 37.1 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from three. He is in the process of regressing to the mean after his hot start to the season.
In the first match-up against Boston, all the Bulls starters scored in double digits for Chicago, with Rose leading the pack with 25 points. Deng brought down 16 boards and Noah had 13. As a team, the Bulls out-rebounded the Celts by 13.
For Boston, all 13 players got at least a minute, but all of their starters recorded negative plus-minus numbers. Rajon Rondo approached a triple-double, as is usual for him. He had 14 points, eleven assists and seven rebounds.
Even though the Bulls have recently beat lesser teams without their starting point guard, they will need him today. Rose is a game-time decision, but hopefully he will play so fans can be treated to the Rose and Rondo head-to-head. That match-up is always hard-fought, and really both these guys need to play to keep up with Jeremy Lin in the “best point guard in the NBA” discussion. If they can even be mentioned in the same breath as Lin, because I’m not so sure anymore.
Boston is just 14-12, but they have gotten back on track after a slow start, going 7-3 in their last ten games (they won nine of ten at one point as well). The Celtics have lost two in a row coming into today though, and their most recent defeat came against the Raptors (they lost to the Lakers in overtime before that).
In the loss to Toronto, the Celtics were outrebounded by eight, had eight fewer assists and turned the ball over five more times. Ray Allen scored just six points (no three pointers), while Rondo scored five points, to go with seven assists and five turnovers. Kevin Garnett played well scoring 17 points on 6-9 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds. You should expect Boston to come out hungry after this somewhat embarrassing loss against Toronto.
The Bulls on the other hand have beaten four straight opponents by 20 points, most recently the Bobcats. Without Rose, the Bulls held every Charlotte starter to single digit scoring and 32.9 percent shooting as a team. Joakim Noah led the Bulls in points and rebounds, scoring 17 on 7-9 shooting while bringing in 14 boards.
But the Bobcats aren’t in the same league as Boston. Well actually, they are in the same League, but those against animal cruelty argue they shouldn’t be.
Chicago and Boston still hang their hats on defense, ranking second and third in defensive rating. In opponent field goal percentage Boston ranks first, while Chicago ranks third (just .3 percentage points separates them).
Where the Bulls have an advantage is on the glass, but this isn’t anything new for Chicago. The Celtics rank 29th in offensive rebound percentage, and 21st in defensive rebounding percentage. Chicago is still first in offensive rebounding.
This is the first match-up between these two teams this week. They will meet again in Chicago on Thursday.
Bobcats Injury Report:
D. J Augustin: expected to miss 1-2 weeks
DeSagana Diop: questionable (sore knee)
Gerald Henderson: out 2-4 weeks
Corey Magette: game-time decision (strained hamstring)
Tyrus Thomas: probable (eye infection)
Chicago is coming off a win against the second worst team in the league… and their prize? A game against the team with the worst record in the league, Charlotte.
This marks three games in a row that the Bulls have had easy opponents (New Jersey, New Orleans and Charlotte). They take on Boston on Sunday though, so sadly their run against the bottom feeders is over for now.
Charlotte has lost 12 games in a row. During that streak they lost to Washington twice. So that about sums up the Bobcats season so far. The closest loss of those 12 games was by three points. The next closest was by six, which happened against Chicago and Phoenix. So even though the Bobcats can’t find a win, they played the Bulls pretty well last time out.
That game was about a month ago in Chicago. It wasn’t a dominating win, especially considering their opponent. In the Bulls defense, they were without Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, but they shouldn’t need excuses against this Charlotte team.
Carlos Boozer stepped up (as he likes to do against lesser opponents), scoring 23 points to go along with nine rebounds. Omer Asik, who started in place of Noah, grabbed 15 rebounds. Deng added 22 points and Rip Hamilton chipped in 20.
Gerald Henderson led the Bobcats with 22 points and nine rebounds. Byron Mullens scored 17. The Bobcats shot 47.3 percent from the field, better than the Bulls and Charlotte also out-rebounded the Bulls. But the Bobcats turned it over eight more times than Chicago.
And even though Chicago won without Rose, he will probably be in the line-up tonight, playing through back spasms. Of course he’s going to play tonight. Why would anyone expect him to sit out against the worst team in the league, to attempt to heal his back before the schedule gets tough again and the team actually needs him?
After all, the Bobcats are the second worst team in the league when it comes to giving up points in the paint (47.4 per game). They could depend on Boozer and Noah to get points down low. Or maybe even lean on newly announced All-Star Luol Deng. But once again it will be on Derrick to create.
Really, there isn’t much to say going into this game. Chicago is one of the top teams in the league, while Charlotte may possibly be the worst. It should be an easy win for the Bulls, and a short night for the starters.
A few days ago, I said there wasn’t a solid statistical argument for Lu to make the team, even though I really wanted him to make it because he’s such a valuable player to the Bulls. In that argument, I listed raw numbers and several advanced metrics. However, I missed something that may have been pretty important. Something that was pointed out to me via e-mail by TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott.
A case for Deng would be built largely on defense, which nobody charts individually. Those defensive metrics you cite try to extrapolate from opponents’ performance, but you and I both know in a Thibodeau system there’s so much switching and helping that that is imperfect.
Also, you say no stat can capture every little thing. But I disagree. The score does. If you’re helping the team, you’re helping the team, you know?
All of that is in plus/minus. The problem is not that it misses stuff. It’s that it captures other stuff too, and is noisy, especially early in the season.
But if you’re saying somebody is not such a great defender for this team, I don’t know if the defensive metrics you cite matter or not. They might. But I’d sure double-check them against the plus/minus. … which suggests Deng is indeed elite.
Compare those numbers to a lot of other players, or other SFs, and I think it’s easy to say that Deng is likely an elite player. Maybe an All-Star.
Henry wanted me to make it clear that he hadn’t gotten a chance to research this topic in detail. He was only suggesting that there were additional factors — an plus/minus in particular — to consider when trying to decide whether Deng was statistically worthy of an All-Star berth. And in terms of plus-minus…Luol definitely deserves to make the team.
Of course, that’s all moot, because Lu is an All-Star now. The coaches have made sure of that.
And it’s a well-deserved honor no matter how you look at it.
The Bulls are now seven games into their season-long nine-game road trip. They’re 5-2 on the trip so far and have three straight crushing victories over bad teams.
That may not sound all that impressive — and I know I’ve expressed concern over the Bulls padding their record against lesser opponents — but beating bad teams is meaningful.
First off, it’s easier than you think to fall into a trap. Just ask the Clippers, who lost to the Kyrie Irving-less Cavaliers last night despite strong performances from Blake Griffin (25 points and 15 boards) and Chris Paul (16 points and 12 assists).
Secondly, as Neil Paine of Basketball-Reference pointed out last year, the second-best predictor of playoff success is racking up blowout wins against weak teams. In fact, these “stomps” are a better predictor of potential postseason success than “guts,” which are close wins over good teams. (The best predictor is blowout wins over good teams.)
Now consider: This Bulls squad has played more road games (18) and more games overall (28) than any team in the league but still leads the NBA in wins (22) despite injuries to key players (Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Rip Hamilton)…
…and they still have the focus, in the late stages of a very long road trip, to hold the Hornets to 67 points on 37 percent shooting while dishing out 29 assists on 39 made baskets and outscoring New Orleans 58-40 in the paint?
And despite a light workload for Rose (22 minutes, 6 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds)?
This team is locked in, folks.
Said Carlos Boozer: “We’re staying humble, staying hungry and we just did a good job of setting the tone defensively. We did a good job contesting shots, did a good job making them take tough shots, and at the same time I thought we did a good job executing our offense to make the lead grow.”
Added Rose: ”We’re on a mission and we can’t take any steps back. It takes us playing with a lot of energy in the beginning and getting a comfortable enough lead that if we’re out of the game, the bench can come in and do what they have to do. … We’re learning. The last couple of games we’ve been jumping on people and that’s the right way to be.”
The Bulls aren’t just whistling dixie, either. They aren’t paying lip service. They are about desire, focus, and intensity. Every game. Every night.
On a related subject, the Bulls limited their turnovers to 12 while forcing 19 and scoring 29 points off the Hornets’ miscues.
Said New Orleans coach Monty Williams: ”I believe that that’s the way you play if you want to win a championship. Everybody on that team knows their role. They have an identity and they live it out every night. I thought we had a tough time with their pressure.”
Added Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau: ”We try not to change our approach from game to game. Practice, every practice the same. The challenge is to study, prepare, and when the ball goes up, know your opponent well. And know what you’re going to try and get accomplished. I think if you build that habit, then you continually work on it and do the right things every day, the results will take care of themselves.”
Thibs is right. The results really have been taking care of themselves.
And here’s a shocker for you. Chicago — not surprisingly — currently ranks a close third in Defensive Efficiency (94.6) behind Boston (94.5) and Philadelphia (93.8). But after finishing 12th in Offensive Efficiency last season, the Bulls (106.0) now rank second behind the Heat (106.2).
Even cooler, the Bulls are third (behind Boston and Philly) in Assist Ratio (the percentage of a team’s possessions that ends in an assist). That’s why watching this team play can be a thing of beauty. The ball is always moving. The players are always looking for — and hitting! — open teammates.
It’s good stuff. Very good stuff.
And with the team seemingly getting better every games…
Hornets Injury Report:
Jarrett Jack: questionable
Carl Landry: out
Jason Smith: doubtful
As Chicago’s injury woes continue, they keep reeling off wins against lesser teams. Their most recent dominating performance came at New Jersey. Tonight they take on another very sub-500 team, New Orleans.
And in what will become a new game show, “Who is out for tonight’s game?” Our first contestant…Rip Hamilton. Rip is questionable for tonight’s game, but he’s missed seven straight already so he’s old news. The Bulls might also be without Derrick Rose. Rose played just eleven minutes against the Nets, at first his bench warming was due to foul trouble, but he soon left the game for good with back spasms.
Rose continues to say that he will be ready to go, but it doesn’t really seem worth it. The Bulls play the Hornets tonight and then go to Charlotte to take on the Bobcats. Neither team is strong and the Bulls should be able to win without him. There is no reason to rush him back from injury (this sentence was meant for Tom Thibodeau…I hope he’s a reader).
Chicago is six games through their nine game road trip, which ends this Sunday in Boston. The Bulls are 4-2, with their only losses coming to top teams in the East, Miami and Philadelphia.
Chicago now looks to New Orleans. And the Hornets aren’t very pretty. They are 4-21 overall and just 2-12 at home. Their slow pace (29th in the league) means they are only giving up 92.5 points per game at home. But the Hornets are only averaging 87.7 points in the New Orleans Arena. Opponents are shooting 45.3 percent in New Orleans.
The Hornets are coming off a loss to Sacramento in which they blew an 18 point lead. Greivis Vasquez scored 20 points to go with nine assists, Marco Belinelli had 18 points, and Emeka Okafor scored 19 and grabbed seven rebounds.
The Hornets had more rebounds and assists than the Kings, but were undone by a huge performance by DeMarcus Cousins, who went off for 28 points and 19 rebounds.
New Orleans hasn’t won a game since January 27. They beat Orlando 93-67 that night. Their last win before that? January 9, against Denver (The Hornets did start the season 2-0, so there is a bright spot in everything).
To be fair to New Orleans, they have been without their biggest prize in the Chris Paul deal for nearly the entire year. Eric Gordon has only played two games this year. He hasn’t seen the floor since January 4.
The Hornets could be without more than just Gordon tonight. Carl Landry will definitely be out, while Jarrett Jack may miss the game as well. Jack has missed the last three games, but Vasquez has filled in nicely in his spot. Neither guy would stand much of a chance against Rose. That doesn’t mean he should play if he isn’t fully healthy though.
Again, New Orleans and Charlotte are winnable games with Derrick in the lineup. Some rest would probably do Rose well. But as I type this, I am pretty sure the reigning MVP will be in the starting line-up tonight.
Last month, Rose said: ”Lu is definitely going to make the All-Star team this year. If he don’t, that would be cheating man. It would be cheating for sure.”
The sentiment is understandable. Deng is a high-character player who has played consistently well for several years with relatively little fanfare. Now he’s a crucial component of a team that has won a lot of regular season games over the past two years.
This should be his time. Right?
Well, I guess it depends on your definition of All-Star. To me, an All-Star is one of the best players in the league, or, at the very least, one of the best at his position. I think it’s safe to say Deng isn’t among the league’s truly elite players. So how does he rank among small forwards?
Let’s crunch the numbers.
Deng is averaging 16.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG, and 2.4 APG while shooting 44 percent from the field and 37.3 percent from three-point range.
To put things in perspective, Deng ranks third amonth small forwards in rebounding, eighth in scoring, and 11th in assists. He’s 20th in field goal percentage and 22nd in three-point percentage.
Among, small forwards, Lu currently ranks 12th in Player Efficiency Rating (16.59), behind guys like Atlanta’s Marvin Williams, and Indiana’s Danny Granger.
He ranks 11th in Value Added (69.4), which is ”the estimated number of points a player adds to a team’s season total above what a ‘replacement player’ (for instance, the 12th man on the roster) would produce.”
He is also 11th in Estimated Wins Added (2.3), which is “the estimated number of wins a player adds to a team’s season total above what a ‘replacement player’ would produce.”
Tossing out part-time players like Jimmy Butler and Mike James, Luol ranks fifth on the team in PER behind Rose (25.1), C.J. Watson (21.3), Carlos Boozer (20.4), and Joakim Noah (17.2).
He’s sixth in Offensive Rating (106) behind Kyle Korver (122), Watson (117), Rose (116), Noah (112), and Boozer (110).
He’s tied with Taj Gibson for fourth in Defensive Rating (98), behind Omer Asik (93), Boozer (95), and Noah (96).
He’s fourth in Win Shares (2.4), behind Rose (4.1), Boozer (3.3), and Noah (2.8).
And he’s sixth in Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (.148), behind Rose (.246), Watson (.235), Boozer (.196), Noah (.181), and Korver (.165).
Statistically speaking, Deng is not among the best small forwards in the league, nor is he even the second-best player on the Bulls in any advanced metric.
Heck, you could make a reasonable statistical arguement that C.J. Watson has been better and more important to the Bulls this season.
Now, listen, I will be the very first person to tell you that stats — even the advanced ones — don’t truly measure a player’s worth. Especially within the context of his own team. Nor do they give a sense of the intangibles that Deng brings to the table.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “He’s not overlooked by his coaches and his teammates. We know how important he is to the team. And he does it night in, night out. Even the nights in which he doesn’t shoot the ball well he still does so many things that help you win. He’s done everything for us.”
I’m not disagreeing with Thibs at all. He’s definitely one of the Bulls key players. One of. As in, among others. Among several others, all of whom are making critical contributions to a very successful team.
Deng is a good player and, by all accounts, a great person. Personally, I would love to see his consistent effort recognized with an All-Star nod. It would be a nice reward for years of hard work and team-oriented play.
But, if you want to pick nits, Deng is not one of the best players in the league. Among the league’s best small forwards, he’s hovering closer to the bottom of the top ten than he is the top. And his tangible contributions to his team are solid but not really at the All-Star level, unless you count intangibles.
Yes, Deng is the “glue” of the Bulls, but All-Star teams don’t really feature glue guys. They feature the best of the best. And, as good as I think Deng is, and I think he’s very good, I just don’t think he’s among the best of the best.