2013-14 Team: Cleveland Cavaliers/Chicago Bulls
Key Stats 2013/14 w/ Cleveland (40 games): 14.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 41.7 FG%, 31.5 3pt% (on 3.2 attempts/game), 77.1 FT% (on 3.6 attempts/game) and 1.0 steals
Estimated contract: 4 years for $36-44 million
Matters to No One But Me …
Luol Deng was having the best year of his career 23 games into the season before the Bulls voluntarily provoked their head coach and franchise player by trading him for cap relief. Through the first quarter of the season, Deng was averaging career-highs in points (19.0), assists (3.7) and free throw attempts (5.4) to go along with 6.9 rebounds on 45.2 percent shooting from the field. He was the aggressive slash-and-kick scorer and distributor who didn’t venture beyond his skillset.
Then he went to the basketball abyss that is Cleveland. Three-point attempts went up, free throw attempts went down and the rest of his stat line crashed as well.
We’ve grown accustomed to men of Deng’s size being more than your prototypical throwback small forward. LeBron, Durant, Melo, Nicolas Batum, Andre Igoudala, Paul George (sometimes, when he isn’t fumbling the ball) and occasionally Kawhi Leonard are capable of bringing the ball up court, running the point and leading the fast break off of defensive rebounds or turnovers. We’ve come to expect this even though it’s supernatural. Deng is not that guy.
Deng is a versatile defender who gets in the passing lanes for deflections, creates his own offense from hard cuts, putbacks in the paint and any other form of ugly/dirty baskets. He is this offseason’s Igoudala minus the handles and savvy to run the point.
It’s easy to harp on his faults (lack of shooting, ball handling) and ignore the unselfishness and versatility of Deng’s game. He will help keep the ball moving, create passing lanes for guards and always take the toughest defensive assignment of the evening. Considering the emphasis on three-point shooting, it’s possible that Deng will be an undervalued asset this offseason and one that could be acquired at a bargain rate.
Fits with the Pistons because …
Defensively, Deng is an essential piece in an Eastern Conference that features LeBron, Melo, an emerging Paul George, Joe Johnson and likely Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker in the near future. Currently, the Pistons don’t have anybody to matchup with opposing team’s stars other than Kyle Singer and a disinterested Josh Smith.
Deng’s contributions on the defensive end are complemented by his unselfish offensive game. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to contribute which is a luxury on a Pistons team littered with iso players in Brandon Jennings, Smith and Greg Monroe. Deng will also attack the offensive glass from the corners to complement an already strong rebounding team.
Deng precisely fits with the Pistons because he’s adaptable and has always modified his game to accommodate his surroundings. Deng survived multiple general managers, head coaches and star players in Chicago because he makes himself valuable based on his situation and not his personal ambitions. He fits because he makes an effort to conform and not secede.
Doesn’t fit with the Pistons because …
I’ve scoured Deng’s shot chart(s) for hope and failed to find anything meaningful that will complement the current roster. Deng is a three-point shooter by name only as there’s little reason to respect his shot outside the paint. The Pistons desperately need to stretch the floor and Deng will provide no such luxury. Deng duplicates Josh Smith’s role as a three in traditional lineups and a four in smaller lineups while being an inferior paint and post-up scorer to Joe Dumars’ prize acquisition last year.
A Deng/Smith/Drummond lineup sounds intriguing, long, active and troublesome on paper but it’s likely to result in the three running into each other on the offensive end due to the lack of space.
Deng is a nice player who will flourish as the third scorer and defensive stopper on a playoff team. He’s a huge upgrade over Matt Barnes/Danny Granger/Hedo Turkoglu/Darren Collison combo that the Clippers are rolling out in the playoffs. He’s also an improvement over Thabo Sefolosha/Caron Butler in Oklahoma City. If a team is close, I’m convinced that Deng can put them over the top. But like we observed in Cleveland, if a team is far removed from sustained success like Detroit is, Deng’s positive attributes are likely to get lost in the bigger questions.
Free Agent is …
… seeking a long-term contract in a stable environment with a touch of loyalty. Deng’s name has surfaced in trade rumors since 2007 and It took seven years for the Bulls to actually trade him. By all accounts, Deng has never complained and has transitioned from the Eddy Curry, Ben Wallace and Joakim Noah eras in Chicago. He’s been a stabilizing force for the organization and was rewarded by being sent to a dismal situation in Cleveland where too much was expected of him. Now it’s Deng’s turn to do what’s best for him which is also best for business.
Best known for …
4) Oh and he had his own Nike commercial with eerie sirens: