In case you have not heard already, Luol Deng is out indefinitely with a torn ligament in his wrist. Much worse than Derrick Rose's recent toe sprain, which held him out day-to-day, Deng is listed as week-to-week.
So, what exactly does this mean for a team that has run out to the best record in the NBA? First off, I do not expect this will have a dramatic effect on their record. While Deng is their best defender and most versatile player, the Bulls recently went 4-1 without MVP Derrick Rose.
Looking ahead to the next two months of the schedule, only two games against the Miami Heat, and possibly two more against the New York Knicks (if they can get everything straightened out and start to play to their potential) look like games the Bulls could lose as a direct result of having Deng in a suit and tie.
With his length and athleticism, Deng is by far the Bulls' best option, and as good of an option as there is in the league, to chase around dynamic small forwards like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
As far as the players on the roster I expect to step up, the first man we must look at is Richard Hamilton. Hamilton was brought in to be the missing piece in the Bulls' championship chase. He was hindered by a groin injury early, and is now back on the court just in time.
With Deng out, Hamilton will jump from the team's third to second scorer, and his value on offense will increase. He proved capable in the team's first game without Deng, going off for 22 points and 10 assists. Carlos Boozer, who stepped up with Hamilton and Rose out, should see more touches as well.
The man who will take the brunt of Deng's defensive responsibility will be Ronnie Brewer. Brewer was signed to be the team's starting shooting guard in 2010, but an injury forced him to miss training camp and the beginning of the season. Keith Bogans became the starter and Tom Thibedeau, a huge proponent of team chemistry, went with an "if it isn't broke don't fix it," philosophy and kept Bogans as the starting 2, even though Brewer had proven himself through the years as the better player.
Now, Brewer will have his chance to prove his worth to Bulls fans, as he will be in the spotlight starting for such a key player as Deng. It will not be all on Brewer to replace Deng's production, as he was always been more of a defensive specialist and fourth or fifth option on offense.
Kyle Korver will get extra minutes to kick in the missing offensive production. Always more of a slasher, Deng has the green light to shoot the three in Thibdeau's system. Deng has shot over 34 percent from three-pont land and helps to spread the floor for Rose. Korver's only responsibility is to shoot the three, and he will have more opportunities to do that.
Finally, Bulls fans might get a look at Jimmy Butler to help replace the bench minutes of Korver and Brewer. This will be Butler's best opportunity to play, as the team is loaded with productive veterans at shooting guard and small forward. Butler has played well in limited opportunities, missing only one field goal on the year. His athleticism and youth could come in handy on those back-to-backs with Deng out.
Final word: If Deng is out a full two months (34 games), I expect Chicago to keep right on rolling with a 28-6 record in that span. They are one of few teams that have the depth and team-first philosophy to get by without a key player like Deng.
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