According to Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo!’s Ball Don’t Lie, Luol Deng is the eight-best small forward in the NBA, behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Gerald Wallace, Andre Iguodala, Danny Granger and Paul Pierce.
Here’s Dwyer’s commentary: “After a year or two in the wilderness, Luol finally got his wits about him in 2009-10, averaging 17.6 points and 7.3 rebounds alongside his typically sound defense. Deng also chipped in about a steal and block per game, and this is important: Luol came in at under two turnovers a game for the sixth time in a six-year career. I understand that his midrange, rarely dribbling game doesn’t see him taking many chances, but to be able to field a solid-scoring forward for nearly 38 minutes a game and see him turn the ball over just 1.9 times per? Good stuff.”
That seems fair. Now let’s take a quick peek at the comparitive 2010-11 salaries of Dwyer’s top eight SFs (from ShamSports): LeBron ($14,500,000), Durant ($6,053,663 from his rookie contract but jumping to $13,603,750 in 2011-12), ‘Melo ($17,149,243), Wallace ($10,500,000), Iggy ($12,345,250), Granger ($10,973,202), Pierce ($13,876,321) and Deng ($11,345,000).
This biggest knock against Deng is his supposedly cap-killing contract. And yet based on Dwyer’s rankings, Deng’s pay is roughly commensurate with his standing among the league’s elite small forwards.
This — in addition to all the recent talk about potentially trying to flip Deng (and other assets) for ‘Melo — got me to wondering how Luol ranks statistically compared to the league’s other small forwards.
Deng versus the Average Small Forward:
According to Hoopdata, the average NBA small forward gives his team 9.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG (2.7 DR and 0.8 OR), 1.4 APG, 0.7 SPG and 0.4 BPG while shooting 44.9% from the field, 34.9% from downtown and 78.6% from the line (on 2.2 FTA).
Last season, Deng averaged 17.6 PPG, 7.3 RPG (5.4 DR and 1.9 OR), 2.0 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.9 and 0.9 BPG while shooting 46.6% from the field, 38.6% from beyond the arc and 76.4% from the line (on 4.7 FTA).
At a glance, it’s clear that Deng is solidly above average. But let’s delve further. The following comparitive rankings also come from Hoopdata. I have compared Deng to other “full time” small forwards — that is, SFs who played 40+ games and 30+ MPG — across several categories.
Deng ranked 4th in RPG, 4th in Offensive RPG, 4th in Defensive RPG, 4th in BPG, 8th in FTA, 8th in FG%, 9th in PPG and 10th in 3P%.
Defense / Rebounding:
Deng ranked 4th in Offensive Rebounding Rate, 5th in Total Rebounding Rate, 5th in Charges Drawn, 6th in Defensive Rebounding Rate and 7th in Defensive Plays (Steals + Blocks + Charges Drawn).
Shooting / Scoring:
Despite ranking 8th in FG% and 10th in 3P%, Deng ranked only 13th in FT%, 14th in True Shooting Percentage and 16th in Effective Field Goal Percentage. He ranked 8th in Field Goals Assisted, but that means he didn’t really create his own shots. He was also 9th in Times Blocked.
Believe it or not, Deng ranked 8th in And1s (times scoring a basket while also drawing a shooting foul) and 8th in And1% (And1s / Field Goals Attempted). He ranked 9th in Free Throw Rate.
Deng ranked 9th in FG% at the rim (61.2), 4th inside 10 feet (47.3), 9th from 10-15 feet (39.4), 6th from 16-23 feet (40.0).
He ranked 10th in attempts at the rim (4.3), 10th inside 10 feet (1.3), 10th from 10-15 feet (0.9), 3rd from 16-23 feet (6.7) and 18th from three-point range. So as we already knew, Luol “specializes” in chucking from 16-23 feet…the least efficient shot in basketball.
Deng ranked 4th in Win Shares, 6th in NBA Efficiency Rating, 7th in Adjusted Win Shares, 8th in Player Efficiency Rating and 8th in Adjusted Player Efficiency Rating.
Deng ranked 4th in Double-Doubles (13), behind only Gerald Wallace (33), LeBron James (31) and Kevin Durant (25). He had two more Double-Doubles than Carmelo Anthony.
Note all the top 10 and even top five rankings. These seem to synch up pretty well with Dwyer’s assessment. The reality — and Bulls fans would do well to realize this — is that Luol Deng is one of the best small forwards in the league. Analysis and statistics bear this out. There’s no denying it.
Are there gaps in his game? Sure. Deng takes too many long-range, contested two-pointers and doesn’t do much to create shots for his teammates. He’s also had his share of injury problems: Other than the 2006-2007 season — during which he appeared in all 82 regular season games and 10 playoff games — Deng has missed 21, 4, 19, 33 and 12 games.
But when he’s healthy, Deng provides consistent and solid (if not spectacular) production. If you parse the numbers and really examine what Luol brings to the team, it becomes strikingly obvious that he’s not the wildly overpaid bust that many people think he is. His status among the top 10 small forwards is well-deserved.