Luol Deng: Why Is the Chicago Bulls Forward Suddenly an All-Star?

Darrell HorwitzSenior Writer IIFebruary 22, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 16:  Loul Deng #9 of the Chicago Bulls drives against Mickael Pietrus #28 the Boston Celtics at the United Center on February 16, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Celtics 89-80. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

If you listen to Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau speak, you would probably think that Luol Deng is the best player on the club instead of a guy named Derrick Rose. All you hear from him is how Deng is the "glue" of the team and how important he is.

I'm wondering what's different about the Deng playing for the Bulls now and the guy who has been here the previous seven years.

Deng's numbers are amazingly consistent. His career average is 16 points a game, and he's currently averaging 15.9. He's up almost one assist a game from his career average and half a rebound a game. His steals and blocks are almost exactly at his career numbers.

He's shooting better from the three-point line, but his FG percentage is at a career-low .418, far below his .469 average and the worst since his rookie season, when he shot .434.

For those who live and die by the numbers, are his numbers better than they were before? He's the same guy you hated and thought was vastly overpaid just a short time ago.

Now you love him. Why?

Could it be because Thibodeau loves him and you're buying his line? Perception is reality, and the perception now is that he's an All-Star.

He's the same player he was before. He's a good, not great, basketball player who can't create his own shot and at times disappears on the court. He did that on Monday when he scored seven points in the first quarter and finished with 10 against the Atlanta Hawks on 4-15 shooting.

Remember the outrage when the Bulls were talking about trading him in deals for Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in the past? Fans were livid at the time but later came to their senses when they realized how ridiculous it was to hold him in such high esteem.

Well, it's back. In every trade scenario for Dwight Howard, fans are for the deal as long as Deng isn't included.

What short memories they have.

With Rose out of the lineup recently, Deng had games of 10, 12 and 14 points. His shooting stats in the games Rose missed were 5-13, 3-12, 6-17, 7-15 and 5-15. He didn't reach 50 percent shooting even one time.

Of course, he had those back-to-back double-double games, where he scored 23 points with 11 assists one night and 23 and 10 the next.

It's funny how everyone remembers those but forgets the others.

That's why his numbers are what they are. He has good games and bad games, and he always averages out about the same. He is what he is—no better and no worse.

When he signed that $71 million contract, it was based on his previous accomplishments and expectations that he would get better. He hasn't stepped up despite thoughts to the contrary.

He's still not worth the contract.

Deng is not a special player. He's good, but nothing more. An All-Star steps up when the team's best player is out—Deng failed to do that.

He admitted as much after the game against the Boston Celtics on February 12, when the Bulls lost 95-91 with him scoring 10 points on 3-12 shooting.

In Neil Hayes' column in the Chicago SunTimes, Deng said, "I know I need to be more aggressive, but I didn't want to hunt shots or chase down shots out there."

He plays good defense—but even that is a bit overrated, again because of Thibs.

He's an All-Star this year because the Bulls are 26-8. People say, how can you have one of the league's best records and only one All-Star? He's not better—the team is.

I thought Derrick Rose should have been an All-Star his rookie year instead of Mo Williams of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but same scenario: How can a team have the best record and send only one player (LeBron James) to the game?

Deng's All-Star berth is a team award.

While there are those enamored with stats, I prefer the eye test. I see the same player that I've watched since he came into the league. I once hoped for more from him, but I long ago realized that wasn't to be.

You can examine the stats or you can watch the games. Either way, you come up with the same conclusion. 

So if somebody could please tell me why he's now an All-Star, I would love to hear it.