Despite receiving only just over 130,744 votes to appear in the All-Star Game this year, Luol Deng of the Chicago Bulls was selected by the coaches for the second straight time. Both his selection and his low vote total are good indications of why he is the most under-appreciated iron man and glue guy in the NBA.
Deng is the type of player coaches love to have.
His raw stats don't excite the average fan: He's only 34th in scoring with 16.8 points per game on a mere .425 shooting. While he averages 2.8 three-point attempts per game, he only shoots .308 from deep.
He's a solid rebounder, hauling in 6.8 per game. He's also a decent passer, averaging 3.0 assists per game. While those numbers are respectable, seven other players have better numbers than him across the board, and two of them didn't make it into the All-Star Game.
His numbers alone don't qualify him.
So, what qualities about Deng have captured the appreciation of the coaches and earned him a spot into the game not once but twice?
Coaches like to use the term "glue guy." A glue guy does all those little things—like set screens, take charges and run through a zillion screens to wear out a defender. He knows where and how to position himself to spread the court, even when he isn't the focus of the play.
Here's a perfect example of something a glue guy does. With his team down by five in this game against the Indiana Pacers, Deng rallies his team and the crowd, inspiring a comeback.
A glue guy is always in the right spot defensively. He takes the toughest defensive assignments without complaint. He does everything the coach asks of him.
He plays smart.
He plays hard.
He plays often.
Deng has earned the nickname "Glue-All" for a reason: He does all these at an all-star level.
Bear this in mind, which should be obvious but will still stun some fans: The average coach has a greater grasp of the game than the average fan. It's really true. There's a good chance that the worst coach in the NBA has a better grasp of the game than 99 percent of the fans in the world.
When a coach looks at the game and the players he selects, he is looking at different things than the average fan. When a coach sees Deng, he sees a player he would love to have on his team.
Simply put, Deng is the best glue guy in the NBA who is not a superstar.
Deng, along with Joakim Noah, anchors the Bulls defense, which over the last three seasons has consistently been one of the best in the NBA.
According to Synergy, he has been the primary defender on 535 plays in the 47 games he's played this season. That's an average of 11.4 plays per game where he is the primary defender.
Compare that with LeBron James, who has been the primary defender on 9.3 plays per game. Tony Allen, another All-Defense perimeter defender, has averaged 7.0 plays per game as the primary defender.
While all three players routinely draw the hardest defensive assignments, Deng goes to work the most on the defensive end. Yet he does so with routine success, holding his opponents to a player efficiency rating of 11.9, according to 82.games.com.
In fact, of the previously mentioned seven players whose offensive numbers are better than Deng's, only one of them—Paul George—has more defensive plays and a lower opponent's PER than Deng.
Not coincidentally, George was also selected by the coaches to be an All-Star.
Watch here as Deng uses his high basketball IQ and defensive alertness to score four quick points for the Bulls.
Beyond his offense and defense, there is more to Deng. There are the leadership and reliability that come with his character. His leadership is more than something he does—it goes to the heart of who he is.
He's a worker bee.
Nothing exemplifies this more than the sheer volume of minutes he's played over the last two seasons. His 39.5 minutes per game is the most in the NBA this year, following up last year's league-leading 39.4. On top of that, he led basketball players in the most recent Olympics at 34.7 minutes per game. And he's played all these minutes without getting surgery for a torn ligament in his wrist.
He's also clutch—over the last three seasons, he's made four game-winning shots on seven attempts. Perhaps none was bigger than this shot, which beat the Miami Heat.
Finally, consider the man, not the athlete. Deng's off-court activities exemplify everything you could want from a man and a human being.
His character is displayed by his support for the game in both his native South Sudan and in his adopted home of the United Kingdom. When Deng embraces his role as an ambassador of the game, it shows that he sees the game as bigger than himself—unlike many of today's prima donna athletes, who seem to think themselves bigger than the sport.
In Deng, coaches see a player who does whatever he's asked to do, can be relied on both ends of the court, is appreciative of the chance to play and exercises leadership.
Deng is an All-Star based on the strength of his character, not on the strength of his numbers. He is an iron man inside and out. While the typical fan may never understand why he is an All-Star, the typical coach will always love him because he's the kind of player every team needs to succeed.
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