The short answer:
Now, before I get to my long answer, let me make it clear that I love Luol Deng as a basketball player and readily acknowledge that he is an indispensable member of the Bulls.
That said, I can’t see any legitimate argument for adding him to the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
There are plenty of people who disagree with me. ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell. Sam Smith of Bulls.com. Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald. Mark Schanowski of CSNChicago. Josh Hill of Pippen Ain’t Easy. And, of course, his superstar teammate and reigning MVP Derrick Rose.
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.
Now let’s talk advanced stats (courtesy of ESPN’s John Hollinger).
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.”
Now, let’s look at his statistical worth to the Bulls, via Basketball-Reference.
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.