If there is one word that strikes fear in the Chicago Bulls' hearts, it is "injury." Superstar point guard Derrick Rose fell victim to a laundry list of ailments during the 2011-12 season, capping it off with a torn ACL that will sideline him until early 2013.
As the 2012-13 regular season rapidly approaches and D-Rose remains sidelined, the team is in full recovery mode. It has been widely speculated that the Bulls are in store for a disappointing season, which places a new level of pressure on Deng and Noah to save the half-year from being lost.
In fact, Deng will overcome his troublesome wrist to fill Rose's shoes.
Per a report via Mike McGraw of The Daily Herald, Deng has been practicing with the Bulls. Coach Tom Thibodeau claims that Deng is "doing all the things he did before" and even went as far as saying "he’s actually playing at a very high level.”
In this time of need, why offer up sentiments of pessimism and doubt? If Thibs says it's true, believe it to be.
Although Deng will not be able to bring the athletic dynamic that Rose has become known and loved for, he will thrive in his place as the team's leader. The former Duke Blue Devil is one of the game's elite perimeter defenders, and as of a year ago he's even become a threat on the offensive end.
The Chicago Bulls will miss Rose. Just don't tell Deng that.
Production in London
After Deng was named an All-Star in 2012, some fans began to question whether or not his abilities warranted such a selection. Although he's always been one of the better players at his position, Deng has never displayed true star qualities.
Can Luol Deng lead the Chicago Bulls to legitimate success in Derrick Rose's absence?
After he finished in the top 10 in terms of scoring at the London Olympics, however, we may have to reconsider such a claim.
Deng averaged 15.8 points per game, dropping in 26 during Great Britain's furious rally and near upset of the heavily-favored Spaniards. The final score sat at 79-78, which was quite amazing considering Spain led 60-48 after three quarters.
Deng's 13 points in the fourth quarter, however, brought his country within striking distance. A late three-pointer cut it to one point, but Spain held on and Great Britain found disappointment.
What the NBA found, however, is a new respect for Deng. The British assassin is more than capable of playing the role of lead scorer when the lights are on and the pressure has mounted.
History Lesson: This is Nothing New
Rose's absence is certain to be a distraction for the Bulls. As for how much it hurts them, however, that can be determined by a study of history.
During the 24 regular season games in which Deng was active but Rose was not, the former Duke star was phenomenal. Deng averaged 16.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.8 blocks per game. He also had two outings with at least 10 assists and another nine with at least eight rebounds.
Statistically speaking, Deng was playing like an All-Star.
In total, Rose missed 27 games during the 2011-12 regular season. In that time, Thibodeau, Deng and the Bulls went 18-9, grabbing victories over the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Orlando Magic.
The team can compete without Rose. In fact, they can win. The real question is, can Deng lead the Bulls to an elite record until his return?
As history would suggest, the answer is yes.
Defense, Defense, Defense
Anyone who tells you that the Chicago Bulls' quality of defense suffered from Rose's absence is speaking out of pure and utter bias. With D-Rose out of the lineup, the Bulls were the best defensive team in the NBA.
Don't believe it? Check the numbers. This time around, they don't lie.
For the year, the Bulls held opponents to a league-best 88.2 points per game. In the 27 games in which Rose was sidelined, however, they smothered their opposition and limited the to just 86.4 points per contest.
That includes eight games where the opposition scored less than 80 points and 16 in which they held their opponent to less than 90.
During games in which Deng was sidelined, however, the Bulls surrendered 90.6 points per game. Although that remains an elite number, that's a 4.2 point difference between the average they posted with Deng on the floor and Rose injured.
We will not compare importance. What will be acknowledge, however, is what the numbers suggest. With or without Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls are elite when Luol Deng is on the floor.