Can a Luol Deng revival happen this season?

ESPN’s Marc Stein mentioned yesterday that the Bulls had plans to meet with free agent center Erick Dampier last night. The meeting happened, but that’s about it. Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald tweeted: “Bulls may meet with Erick Dampier in Dallas, but at this point have no plans to sign ex-Mavs center, a source says.”

I’m not trying to overlook or undersell that story, I just don’t see Dampier joining the team. I doubt the Bulls want to spend too much money on Dampier, and I think Dampier is probably looking for his final NBA payday. Those two concepts go together like peanut butter and motor oil.

No, I’m much more interested in this story K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune wrote about Luol Deng. Here’s the summary: Deng is healthy and happy — which hasn’t been the case for a few years — and new coach Tom Thibodeau wants to make more effective use of Deng’s varied skill set than, ahem, other recent Bulls coaches.

Here are some of what Deng had to say:

“I have a big smile on my face just driving to practice. I’m able to move a lot again. That’s my game. The way we’re playing offensively, there are so many different ways I can move without the ball. I find myself all over the floor, which is good. It allows me to use my instincts.”

And:

“I feel great. I’m real happy that I got to play (for the Great Britain national team) in the summer. Last year with my (stress fracture) injury, I didn’t play until training camp. This year, I came in better shape and that’s helped me a lot.”

Now here’s what Thibodeau had to say:

“I don’t know what happened in the past. I just know when we competed against the Bulls, you always worried about where he was going. I like what I see. He’s professional and works hard every day. He can score in a number of different ways. He’s so unselfish.

“Often, he cuts hard and he may not get the ball but it opens offense up for someone else. A lot of times, he gives himself up for the team. He’s very effective without the ball. He’s got a terrific mid-range game. He’s better in the post than people give him credit for.

“And he’s becoming a more confident shooter. His versatility — particularly now when we’re looking for different ways to score with Carlos (Boozer) out — is something we’ll take advantage of.”

Under Vinny Del Negro, Deng became fairly one-dimensional. More of a stand-still, spot-up shooter from that infamous 16-23 foot range (a.k.a. “the worst shot in basketball”). Apparently, this was frustrating for Deng, which is understandable. After all, he can make great cuts without the ball, he can slash to the hoop, and he can post up too.

Why reduce his ability to contribute?

I often found myself wondering that last season. In particular, I remember watching Deng have two successful trips into the post on consecutive possessions at home against the Golden State Warriors…after which he never again got the ball down low. I found myself wondering why Vinny wasn’t exploiting what seemed to be an obvious mismatch.

Frankly, I’m still wondering.

Maybe things will be different now. It sure seems as if change is in the air. Thibs recently stopped practice because Deng had launched a long two-pointer from just inside the arc. The message: Step back and take the three-pointer because it’s a better shot.

I also hope the ball movement and improved spacing that Thibodeau is preaching will open up more drives for Luol. And now that he’s (fingers crossed) fully healthy (knock on wood), maybe he’ll be able to finish with some serious authori-tah. It would be nice if Deng could return to his 2006-07 form, when he converted 67 percent of his shots at the rim.

I’ve made this point before: Deng is one of the best small forwards in the league. And even though it feels like he’s been around forever, Deng is only 25 years old. He hasn’t even reached his athletic prime yet.

Look, we know Derrick Rose is a rising star. We know Joakim Noah is force on defense and the boards. We know Carlos Boozer (when healthy) is a double-double machine. But Deng could be a real X-Factor. With the right coaching and the right system, Deng might become the All-Star caliber player everybody predicted he would be during the 2006-07 season.

Maybe I’m being crazy. But I’m still really looking forward to seeing how Thibodeau’s coaching affects Deng’s game.

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21 Responses to Can a Luol Deng revival happen this season?

  1. Alex D October 7, 2010 at 2:54 pm #

    Don’t forget about his defense! He had 4 steals in the opening preseason game. Now hes not gonna do that EVERY game. But I believe Thib’s is smart enough to exploit his length and already very-good defensive skills.

    Deng for one of the All-Defense teams this year anyone?

  2. antoniocampbell@jfychicago.com'
    AC October 7, 2010 at 3:20 pm #

    I never felt that Melo was worth it. I know this is a different story and Melo is going to be top 50 all time, but something wasn’t selling or buyful in his case when I heard Deng had to be apart of the deal also. When healthy, Deng could be a monster. One of the coldest slashers in the game with the tibia injury. Well released jumper. And quiet enough to score 20 on the side of Rose. He is a rebounder, and he is okay on defense. If this man stays healthy, I can see his contribution to the bulls run in the play offs the same way Melo wouldve done, but with Noah, Johnson, Gibson, 1st round draft pick, and what ever else they wanted for Melo. And Korver is coming in behind him. AC

  3. lukerygh@gmail.com'
    Luke October 7, 2010 at 4:28 pm #

    Melo is not going to be top50 of all time AC…. the nba didnt start in 2004

  4. Bill Z October 7, 2010 at 4:49 pm #

    I think Deng is going to have a great season. He seems to be much healthier than the past couple seasons and has a coach that understands his capabilities. Don’t get me wrong, Deng is not going to the All-star game this year, but as a 3rd option kinda guy (when Booz is back) he is going to be one of the best. I mean how many teams have a 3rd option that can avg 17-7, not many.

    I can’t wait to see how the season unfolds. I am so basketball starved that I recorded the game Tuesday while I was at work and watched it late that night. I even replayed portions of the game and took notes! What a freakI’m becoming. Can’t wait to go to Friday’s game. If anyone else wants to go to games this year I am only using half of my tickets (my oartner bailed). e-mail me if you want to go bzerinskas@fpis.net

  5. stromulus@gmail.com'
    Sam October 7, 2010 at 5:37 pm #

    I have to say, I have fully enjoyed the Lu Deng era since he was drafted. I think the best way to put it is this: he’s a guy I want to root for. His background, his personality, etc.: I enjoy his presence on my favorite team.

    This is where I say he averaged 18ppg last year, so I’m not sure his NUMBERS will increase so much that people will take notice. I think he will continue to be under-rated specifically because his main value is as a team player.

    With all that said, I’d love to see him post up multiple times per game. I’d love to see Thibs draw up nifty motion plays with Deng and Brewer using one as a decoy, things like that.

  6. leescr@msn.com'
    Lee Scruggs October 7, 2010 at 5:52 pm #

    Don’t be so suprised if he makes the All-star game–particularly with the combination of the new offense fitting him better, his increased confidence and the need for him to score more with Boozer out for such a long amount of time. It’s going to be fun to watch.

  7. Inception October 7, 2010 at 6:17 pm #

    i wont believe it until he can stay healthy.

  8. antoniocampbell@jfychicago.com'
    AC October 7, 2010 at 6:51 pm #

    Name 50 players better than him and then restate your statement. No War Words just being truthful.

  9. AC October 7, 2010 at 6:52 pm #

    Luke

  10. Bill Z October 7, 2010 at 7:05 pm #

    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Nate Archibald Paul Arizin Charles Barkley Rick Barry Elgin Baylor Dave Bing
    Larry Bird Wilt Chamberlain Bob Cousy Dave Cowens
    Billy Cunningham Dave DeBusschere Clyde Drexler
    Julius Erving Patrick Ewing Walt Frazier
    George Gervin Hal Greer John Havlicek
    Elvin Hayes Magic Johnson Sam Jones Michael Jordan
    Jerry Lucas Karl Malone Moses Malone
    Pete Maravich Kevin McHale George Mikan
    Earl Monroe Hakeem Olajuwon Shaquille O’Neal
    Robert Parish Bob Pettit Scottie Pippen
    Willis Reed Oscar Robertson David Robinson
    Bill Russell Dolph Schayes Bill Sharman
    John Stockton Isiah Thomas Nate Thurmond Wes Unseld Bill Walton Jerry West Lenny Wilkens James Worthy

    Were those named the 50 Greatest of all-time. I would be willing to say Melo is better than approx 20 of these guys, but the list still doesn’t include the likes of Kobe, Garnette, LeBron, Wade…… Melo may be pushing the top 50, but is NOT A LOCK – just sayin’

  11. AC October 7, 2010 at 8:00 pm #

    I feel you Bill Z. But Melo isn’t over yet and he is better than a lot of those names too. But I feel you.

  12. choyle@bpu.com'
    Chuck October 7, 2010 at 8:57 pm #

    A no D forward whose only skill is scoring will never be top 50. Melo does not rebound, pass, block shots, shoot 3s or anything at an above-average rate. He is a volume shooter and is worshipped by people who only look at the PPG stat. He is Jamal Crawford with better PR.
    That is the truth. Deal with it.

  13. Mike October 8, 2010 at 1:16 am #

    Melo is a better SCORER than a lot of those names. Not a better player. I can think of another 25 players better than him.

  14. thetallented1@yahoo.com'
    Brooklyn Bulls October 8, 2010 at 1:22 am #

    Great read Matt….Luol has been so passive and complacent the last few years. that fed into his soft fragile image. i want 2 c some fire out of him lke b4 VDN. I’m still waiting 2 c if Thibs is as good an offensive coach as he is on d. the plan sounds good just waiting on execution

  15. no@gmail.com'
    TheBigShamrock October 8, 2010 at 11:07 am #

    Just like Bulls fans to blame everything prior to their current coach/player/system and act like the current coach/player/system is gonna work miracles on this pile of garbage.

  16. lukerygh@gmail.com'
    Luke October 8, 2010 at 2:49 pm #

    well, looks like he covered 50 guys who are better. to add, Carmelo has never even been considered a top 5 player in a season he played in. Only 2nd and 3rd team nominations. He has no scoring title, no rookie of the year, no finals appearance let alone a finals championship, no all-star mvp award, no other statistical award…. I mean, you show someone that statistic and then give his career stats (24.7ppg, 6.2rpg, 3.1apg, 3TOpg) and he all of a sudden turns out to be just a solid player during his time. But just to make sure, let’s say he can be considered better than 10 guys on that top 50 list…. here are some guys who could fill those spots without him.

    LeBron
    Duncan
    Bryant
    Durant
    Wade
    Howard
    Garnett
    Rodman
    Nash
    Rasheed Wallace
    Bob McAdoo- Still can’t believe he was held off the top 50 list
    Gary Payton

    You get the idea. there were so many guys who were nudged off that list, Melo is maybe a top 75 player, but without a string of championships on a team where he is the dominant go-to player who wills his team to victory, he’ll never be more

  17. lukerygh@gmail.com'
    Luke October 8, 2010 at 2:50 pm #

    And just to be clear, i am not mad at youAC… just like you said, no word-wars. But these types of discussions are what I enjoy most, especially during the preseason when the bulls games dont mean much.

  18. Paul October 8, 2010 at 11:17 pm #

    To put things in perspective about Deng being underrated, he’s actually younger than Noah.

  19. bob.edwards47@yahoo.com'
    BoppinBob October 13, 2010 at 6:07 pm #

    Great point Paul, I think the best is yet to come with Deng. If Deng can remain relatively healthy, a big if in view of his early career, but a very real possibility, I believe that he will florish under Thibs. If he continues to play defense the way he has, continues to take 3-4 treys a game, connects on between 33 and 40%, continues to provide 6-8 rebounds and 2-4 assists he will force the opponents to cover him and could end up an allstar. IMO he is worth every cent he is paid and Thibs will be the catalist to prove it.

    I believe that the Bulls will be good without Boozer and could be a real threat when Boozer does come back. Gibson has solid experience as a starter and while not spectacular is more than adequate. Playing Asik some minutes at center with Noah at PF has proven to me that Asik can contribute this season, I was wrong. Before the end of the season I believe that Asik could be the backup center the Bulls needed. CJ has been solid off the bench, as has Korver. With Boozer the Bulls could be 9 to 10 deep. A far cry from last year when they couldn’t go more than 7 deep at the end of the season.

  20. thecubsfankevin@yahoo.com'
    kev October 28, 2010 at 12:43 am #

    Deng is so soft. He has a hard time moving with the ball. He is rarely a factor. He’s only good for some slashing shots and some cowardly 2pointers.

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