Why Chicago Bulls' Luol Deng Is the NBA's Most Underrated Second Option

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 13, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 08: Loul Deng #9 of the Chicago Bulls looks to move against Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder at the United Center on November 8, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois.The Thunder defeated the Bulls 97-91. 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

Chicago Bulls' wing Luol Deng will never even approach the credit that he deserves. Deng's steady hand (career 16.0 points per game) has left Chicagoans only craving for more.

Consistency is a desirable characteristic in NBA front offices and locker rooms, but it's not always enough for the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately fanbases of today. Fans hoping for superstardom from the seventh overall pick in the 2004 draft (by Phoenix, traded to Chicago on draft night) may have hoped to see more production by this stage in his career.

With a tantalizing package of size (6'8", 220-lbs.), skill and versatility, Deng has appeared on the verge of stardom for the better part of his nine NBA seasons. But it's these elevated expectations that have caused too many to miss out on the impressive portfolio that he has already amassed.

When Derrick Rose suffered a debilitating knee injury in Chicago's opening game of their first round playoff series with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2012, a cloud of despair blew across the Windy City. (At least, that's how Adidas remembers it happening.)

But inside the Bulls' locker room there was an unwavering calm.

Sure, they missed their MVP leader and recognized that a player of his skill level is irreplaceable. But writing off the 2012-13 season because of Rose's lengthy rehab process could not have been farther from their minds.

For, as coach Tom Thibodeau told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, "This is not a new thing for us." After all, Rose missed 27 of the team's 66 games in 2011-12. And even with their point guard missing nearly half the year, Thibodeau's squad scratched and clawed their way to a 50-16 record—tied with San Antonio for the NBA's best mark.

How was Chicago able to not only withstand Rose's various absences, but actually thrive without their fearless leader?

You guessed it. Old, reliable Luol Deng.

Deng embraced the role of go-to scorer in a way that Chicago fans had been yearning to see. He finished the season trailing only Rose in scoring (15.3 points), finding his points from three-point land (79 made), down to the post and everywhere in between.

The 2012-13 season has seen a further embrace of that role from Deng, who leads the team with a career-best 18.9 points per game.

The career marks he's matched or set in minutes (40.4), rebounds (7.4) and assists (2.9) could signal his emergence to some, but in reality it's simply more of that same consistent production basketball fans are used to seeing...just with an increased opportunity.

Considering the fact that Deng often draws the toughest defensive matchup, you start to wonder whether or not Deng has already reached that star plateau.

Any hopes of competing for the conference's top spot may be lost by the time that Rose returns from his torn ACL and MCL, but make no mistake that Deng will keep the club in the thick of the playoff hunt.

It's easy to lose sight of Deng when he's playing alongside a player as skilled as Rose. But after the 2012-13 season is all said and done, fans will have no excuse to keep underselling the criminally underrated Deng.