In the last couple of weeks, Luol Deng's stock has gone up with the Bulls.
First, there was the three-point shot to beat the Heat in Chicago. A few days later, he made three free throws and drew the foul to earn the second two to beat the Heat again in Miami.
In the wake of the injury to Carlos Boozer, Deng has come up huge, filling up the stat sheet by averaging 22 points, eight boards and nearly seven dimes in the two games that Boozer missed.
He's coming up with big plays at big moments, turning around his early history of disappearing at key moments.
More essential to the Bulls' success though is the stellar defense he plays day after day. I don't think it is a coincidence that before the trade deadline you couldn't hear Tom Thibodeau talk without hearing him talk about Luol; Thibs didn't want to see Deng go.
The thing that Deng always provides seems to be the thing that that the Bulls always need. If Rose is struggling, then Deng is stepping it up with the offense. When they need to stop anyone from Kevin Durant to LeBron James to Kobe Bryant, Deng is there to defend.
There's no award for people like Luol, but there should be. There should be an NBA award for the best glue guy in the NBA. If there was one, Luol would be the runaway winner for this season.
Luol isn't the front-line star that the Bulls thought they were inking long-term but he has found his niche in the Thibodeau system.
It got me to wondering: Is Luol Deng the second-best small forward in the history of the team? The best is not much of a discussion; Scottie Pippen is in the conversation for top five small forwards in the history of the entire NBA.
Second-best though? That's a real consideration.
In fact, there's only one player—maybe two—who are really a part of that conversation. Along with Deng, the other two players to compare are Chet Walker and Toni Kukoc. Here are their numbers:
As of right now, it might be hard to justify putting Deng ahead of Walker. There's something Deng has that Walker doesn't though, and that's more years to play with the Bulls.
As for Kukoc, he does have three rings with Chicago. The question is: How much credit does he get for them? He wasn't a starter but he was a key bench player. Is that enough to counter the statistical advantage that Deng has?
That's another question that can be answered yet by Deng. If the Bulls win a championship or two or four, that's another question that can be answered.
So is Luol Deng the second-greatest small forward in Chicago Bulls history? Not yet—but he's worked his way into the conversation and he may be on the way to working Walker and Kukoc out of it.