Name: Luol Deng (pronounced Lu-owl Dang)
Weight: 220 pounds
Birth Date: April 16, 1985 (24 years old)
Birth Place: Wau
Nicknames: Deng-Dong, Luol, Sweet Lu, The Man from Sudan
Drafted: 2004, 1st Round, 7th overall by Phoenix
Experience: 5 seasons (unless you don’t count last season…)
Previous teams: None
Contract: $10.3 million in 2009-10
Expect: A little bit of everything
Don’t expect: Three-pointers
Deng is one of those classic “does many things well but nothing great” guys on the offensive end. His go-to move is the mid-range pull-up jumper (either off the dribble or in transition), but he can also put the ball on the floor, get to the rim, spot up, shoot off screens, crash the offensive glass (he’s averaged almost two o-boards per game for his career) and even post up on occasion. Furthermore, Deng is an above-average finisher on the break, can move very well without the ball and has solid ball-handling skills. He’s also a reasonably good passer. This versatility provides Deng — and, by extension, the Bulls — a lot of ways to score the basketball.
The one glaring deficiency in Deng’s game — other than that whole “does nothing great” thing — is his poor long-range shooting. Technically, Deng hit 40 percent of his threes last season…but he attempted only 20 in the 49 games he played (an average of 0.4 attempts per game). On his career, Deng is shooting 28.3 percent from downtown and has attempted only 244 three-balls in five seasons (and 117 of those came during his rookie campaign). Improving his accuracy from beyond the arc could really help Deng take his game to the next level.
Beyond that, he could also stand to improve his free throw shooting. Deng is a career 76.8 shooter from the charity stripe and has never hit above 80 percent for a season.
Deng’s defensive game is similar to his offensive game in that he’s solid in most areas but isn’t outstanding in any one in particular. His long arms and quick hands allow him to challenge shots and deflect passes, although he doesn’t average many blocked shots or steals (0.5 and 1.0 for his career, respectively). Deng’s defensive fundamentals — stance, footwork, rotations — are all above average and he does a solid job of staying in front of his man. Between that and his combination of length and lateral quickness, Deng has the skill set necessary to be one of the league’s premier defenders at his position.
Deng has the ability, both offensively and defensively, to be an All-Star-caliber player. This was never more apparent than during the 2006-07 season when he set career-highs in most statistical categories, including scoring (18.8), rebounding (7.1), True Shooting Percentage (56.0) and Player Efficiency Rating (18.7). However, Deng regressed in 2007-08 (despite the fact that it was a contract year) due to back and Achilles injuries. He failed to make a strong comeback in 2008-09 (despite signing a $71 million contract during the offseason), mostly because of a right tibial stress fracture that sidelined him during the second half of the season.
So what we’re left with is the cold, hard fact that Deng has had one very good season out of five. Was that a sign of what he could become…or a one-year abberation? John Hollinger made the point that Deng’s 2005-06 and 2007-08 seasons were almost identical, even down to the number of shots he attempted from each distance. And obviously things didn’t improve last season.
Is Deng a one-season wonder, or will he get healthy this season and transform into the All-Star everybody thought he would become two seasons ago? I guess we’re going to find out. I know Bulls fans have grown a bit weary of waiting for him to justify all the hopes, expectations and money that have been invested in him.
Deng has good size at his position, a strong frame, a long wingspan, decent athleticism, fantastic versatility and (by all accounts) and outstanding work ethic. In other words, he has the tools and talent necessary to approach greatness. About the only thing he can’t do is stick the three. If Deng comes anywhere close to reaching his potential this season — or even if he reverts to the Luol of 2006-07 — the Bulls could be much better than most people suspect.