The small forward position should be a very productive one for the Chicago Bulls this season.
Luol Deng and Mike Dunleavy are both established veterans who have been the epitome of consistent production since they have entered the league, and Tony Snell is a rookie with all the right attributes for developing into a solid contributor.
In truth, this balance of proven and potential talent bodes very well for the Bulls’ immediate and long-term future.
Here’s a look at what’s in store from these players during the 2013-14 NBA season.
Luol Deng, Starting Small Forward
Deng is the longest-tenured Chicago Bull and one of five team members who has played since Tom Thibodeau took over the head coaching reigns back in 2010.
Versatility is the name of his game as Deng plays proficiently on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, Deng has a solid mid-range jump shot and can knock down the open three-point attempt.
He is also a solid ball handler and passer.
With All-Star Derrick Rose sitting out the entire 2012-13 season, Deng continued to produce by scoring 16.5 points per game, grabbing 6.3 rebounds and dishing a career high 3.0 assists per game, according to NBA.com.
On the defensive side of the ball, Deng is a physical player who uses his solid frame, long arms and fluid lateral movement to contain his foes.
Though he may not impress anyone with his 0.6 blocks or 1.0 steals per game career average, as detailed by NBA.com, Deng does a great job of not taking risky chances and forcing his assignment to either pass or take a bad shot.
Even though his adaptability is abundant, Deng does have his weak areas.
On a team that has needed a bona fide second shot creator to complement Derrick Rose, Deng has remained dependent on pull-up jump shots or set ups from teammates for his scoring.
Given his two-time All-Star status, it is quite apparent that Deng’s strengths overshadow his weaknesses.
In essence, the expectations for Deng should not change. He will still be a jack-of-all-trades during offensive possessions and the designated stopper on the defensive end.
Statistically speaking, Deng should remain pretty steady. The biggest difference will come in minutes played which should drop considerably now that he has a quality back-up.
Deng should still put out 16 points per game and pull down around six rebounds, and while he’s been averaging 39.1 minutes per game under Thibodeau, having an experienced, capable reserve should get Deng’s minutes down to around 34 per game.
Mike Dunleavy, Primary Reserve
Dunleavy’s signing could prove to be one of the shrewdest moves of the summer when you consider what he adds to the Bulls’ roster.
He’s a cerebral player with a great outside shot which means Thibodeau has a legitimate second-unit leader who can give quality production while also giving Deng quality rest.
Of course, at 32 years of age, you would think that Dunleavy would start slowing down a bit, but you would be wrong.
As detailed by Basketball-Referemce.com, with the exception of his rookie season, Dunleavy has averaged no fewer than 22.2 minutes per game.
It is pretty easy to deduce that since the Bulls were 20th in three-point percentage as a team last season, they are looking forward to having Dunleavy’s sharp shooting at their disposal.
Dunleavy also gives the Bulls another excellent passing big man who can move well without the ball.
Most of Dunleavy’s shortcomings come on the defensive end.
While he certainly isn’t a matador when guarding the ball, Dunleavy does have difficulty staying in front of the league’s more athletic small forwards.
His career 3.7 rebounds-per-game average also leaves a lot to be desired for a team that is rooted in defense with an emphasis on securing the ball after missed shots.
As a reserve, Dunleavy will be expected to keep the offense fluid whenever certain starters are resting on the sidelines.
Combined with Kirk Hinrich, the hope will be that their collective basketball IQs can return Chicago’s second unit to its “Bench Mob” glory days.
Although he is used to playing significant minutes, Dunleavy may actually see less playing time as a Bull. Expect his activity to drop to about 20 minutes per game. That decline will also see a decrease in output with 9.5 points and 3.0 rebounds per game.
Those numbers won’t tell the whole story, though, as Dunleavy will also contribute a bounty of intangibles that will aid in Chicago’s return to the top of the Eastern Conference mountain.
Tony Snell, Secondary Reserve
Snell is a rookie and recent history dictates that actual NBA hardwood is going to be a rare sight for him under coach Thibodeau.
It doesn’t meant that he doesn’t have the goods to be a respectable NBA player, it just means that he’s going to have to do a lot of watching, learning and grinding to crack the rotation.
If you ask his former coaches, not only does Snell not mind the upcoming hard work but will actually embrace it and use it as motivation to improve.
His jump shot accuracy and range give him two assets that already immediately benefit the team.
With a budding Jimmy Butler, Snell and fellow rookie Erik Murphy Chicago have a plethora of shooters who can spread the floor and make things really difficult for opposing defenses for many more seasons.
Some things are also working against Snell.
His length implies that he would be a decent defender; however, it takes physicality to be effective against today’s super small-forwards. Snell is going to have to put on some muscle mass in order to be an effective defender.
Inexperience is Snell’s biggest weakness.
The professional game is very different from the collegiate version, luckily there are two very experienced veterans who will set good examples for the rookie.
Snell’s performance expectations are probably not that high this season, but there will be a lot expected of him as a young player who is willing to learn.
Expect him to see garbage time that will allow him to average around 6-8 minutes per game while chipping in 2 points and maybe 1.2 rebounds per game.