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Bulls Mon Mar 11 2013

Deng Needs To Turn His Intangibles Into Tangibles

Bulls_200.pngLuol Deng is a defensive stalwart who provides endless effort and is in the prime of his career. But the team's intangibles leader has failed as a tangible, stat-line force this season when they've needed him most. As has been the case year after year, Deng needs to do more for this team on offense.

It's hard to place blame on a guy that dependable, but this season, Joakim Noah stepped up to the cumbersome challenge, and Deng stayed his course. Whether or not Derrick Rose returns this season, the team's only chance at an iotas worth of mid-to-late May playoff success has it's ball in Deng's court.

To quantify or not to quantify? That is the question. Deng's stats this season are in line with what he has done over his career. With Rose out, there was, in essence, 21 points per game to make up for, and Deng, who's career scoring average is 16 points per on 46% shooting, is averaging 16.3 points this season on a 42% clip. He has chipped in six rebounds and two assists while shooting three free throw attempts a night on the year, and his career averages are exactly the same. His advanced stats also show that he hasn't carried his team as Bulls fans optimistically hoped he would. Deng's effective field goal percentage,which adjust for three point shots being worth more than two point shots, is at 45% this year, down from 48% for his career.

According to Vorped shot zone chart, Deng does the same he's done since he's gotten paid to play basketball; line up at the baseline, get the ball and slash to the paint, but pulls up on the elbow and shoots a lower percentage shot if the box appears full. He shoots the corner three well, but he needs to get to the hoop or the line with a sense of urgency on more possessions. He looks aggressive on defense for all 24 seconds but after his initial slash move on offensive, he just settles and it's not helping his team like he needs to be.

Take a look at his On/Off stats according to 82games, per 100 possessions, when Deng is on the court the team scores three points less than when he's off it. Even on the defense the team gives up two less points than when he's on it. That's not what you want from your go-to player, but perhaps Tom Thibodeau never wanted Deng to be the go-to guy but keep him in his 39 minute per game work horse mode. It may be wearing on Deng.

I'm not insinuating Thibodeau is doing to Deng what Dusty Baker did to the career of Mark Prior. Deng is still a two time All-Star in three years under the coach's watch. Basketball has a unique quality that isn't as prevalent in the other professional sports. A coach and their system can hold back or create all-stars/successful players more often. Basketball-reference's usage percentage stat shows an estimate of plays where the player's used, Deng is at 21% while Rip Hamilton and Carlos Boozer are at 25% during their time on the floor. It seems Deng is doing what he is asked by his coach: to be there on defense and help facilitate on offense. Can this team ever beat the Heat or compete with Indiana, when Deng gives them only 16 points a game? In the playoff series against Philadelphia last year, only gave his team 14 points a game and we all know what the outcome of that matchup was.

Things have to change but don't expect them to. Deng is invaluable to this team, but he has to score more to improve. He's capable of it, but it doesn't seem to be a point of emphasis to him or the coaching staff. The hope is his defensive intensity can find a fifth gear and he shuts down the likes of Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and other potential wings he'll guard in the opening rounds of the playoffs. If the team even reaches the Eastern Conference finals, all that can be expected is that Deng neutralize LeBron James by keeping him to only 25 points with nine rebounds.

The lack of offense from Deng puts all pressure on Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson to score more and that's not a place you want to be come playoff time. Assuming Derrick Rose doesn't return, the team will only go as far as team defense and Deng will take them and let's hope it's farther it took them last year against an eighth seed.

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