With the number one seed locked up and a first round date with the Pacers guaranteed, it is time to start looking ahead as the rest of the regular season is now meaningless. The series is guaranteed to not go too long as, no offense to the Pacers, but the Bulls are a much better team. In the best case scenario for the Bulls, it ends in a four game series leading to plenty of rest for the Bulls starters.
Going into the playoffs, it is clear that Derrick Rose is the Bulls superstar and that he will have the ball in his hands during the last few minutes of the game. And he certainly will turn in plenty of thirty plus point nights throughout the playoffs.
But who will be the X-Factor, the difference between a playoff run and a championship? First, the way I define X-Factor is a player who can change the flow of the game on both sides of the court. One could say Carlos Boozer, but his lack of defense makes him a low-post threat, not an X-Factor. Also, one could say Joakim Noah, but he is more of a defensive presence than a scorer. Again, he cannot be an X-Factor then.
That leaves Luol Deng. Deng will without a doubt be the player that determines how far the Bulls go in the playoffs. Rose is guaranteed to score, Boozer is guaranteed to score, and Noah will bring his energy. Deng's all around game will determine how the Bulls finish.
On the offensive end, his slashing style of game and new found ability to hit the long ball will be very important to put points on the scoreboard. Opposing defenses will key on Derrick Rose, and with good reason. Rose will be double teamed constantly, leaving someone open and opportunities for Luol.
But where Luol will really make a difference throughout the playoffs is with his effort on the defensive side of the court. I know the Bulls probably won't play many of these teams, but since the seeding is not finalized I'm still going to list their players. The Bulls could conceivably play talented small forwards in Danny Granger, Paul Pierce, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.
Each of those players, with perhaps the exception of Melo and Granger, are without a doubt the best player on their team. Therefore, Luol will have the most important defensive matchup of the series. For example, Luol will be relied upon to stop LeBron and the series could very well depend on that matchup.
As a result, if Luol can stop the other team's best player on the defensive end and capitalize on the offensive end, especially when Derrick Rose is double teamed, he will without a doubt be the X-Factor on the Bulls during the playoffs.