Luol Deng: In Defense of The Beleaguered Chicago Bulls Small Forward

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2010

CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 08:  Luol Deng #9 of the Chicago Bulls is called for a defensive foul as he attempts to block a shot attempt against Tayshaun Prince #22 of the Detroit Pistons at the United Center on November 8, 2007 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Hardly a day goes by without someone somewhere commenting on how the Chicago Bulls would be an elite team if only they would trade away Luol Deng.

They lament the size of the contract and how it's a big waste of money; they fawn over the notion of Anfernee Hardaway and his gaudy offensive numbers.

However, what they don't do is give due appreciation to the effort that Deng brings to the court when he plays. 

Now I've already written how, contrary to popular belief, Deng's contracted is justified by his offensive production.

However, I'd like to point out something else: Luol Deng is rapidly becoming one of the better defensive small forwards in the NBA.

Before you start laughing yourself into a hernia, let me point out a few things. 

Consider his comparison to the following players who are widely considered among the best small forwards at the position in the NBA; just as a note, all I had for opponent's position effective field goal percentage (which takes into account three pointers) was a breakdown by defensive position for the player (i.e. it showed the percentages for the opponent when the player was defending different positions, but there was no overall percentage)—therefore, I chose the position of SF. 

Player Opponent PER DRtg Steal Block DRB Opp EFG% Opp Pts/48
Luol Deng 12.4 105 .7 .7 4.4 .441 19.1
Ron Artest 17.4 105 1.7 .5 1.8 .469 20.2
Gerald Wallace 13.5 104 1.3 1.1 6.8 ..495 19.6
LeBron James 7.1 99 1.5 .6 5.4 .487 14.5
Shane Battier 16.1 109 .9 1.5 4.1 .514 24..3

In each instance, I bolded the leader in each category of the five players. However, I'm not really trying to determine who is the best, but eyeballing ii, can you really say that Deng doesn't belong with the others?

He's second in opponent PER and opponents points per 48 minutes, tied for third (technically he is better than Artest in DRtg), he's third in blocks and third in defensive rebounds. The only thing he's the weakest in is steals. He also gives up the lowest eFG percentage.

Looking at this, while it's hard to say anything definitive, among the five, you'd be inclined to put James first and then Wallace second, with Deng a close third, Artest fourth and Battier fifth if you were to rank them defensively. 

Regardless of how you assess them though, it sure looks that Deng is in the conversation with the others, with the exception of James, who is as dominant on defense as he is on offense.

Just as an aside, I know it's popular to hate James, but his defense is hugely overlooked. 

But getting back to Deng, it's apparent that he's taken his defense to a very special place. When you're in the conversation with Ron Artest, that's significant. His opponent eFG percent is really something spectacular. 

The defensive stopper is a needed component of the NBA Champion, and while perhaps Ronnie Brewer can fill that role he can't do so with the same level of offense that Deng can.

There's value to Deng and that value translates directly to wins. Consider recent history. 

This week, he guarded Kevin Durant, who went 7-18 from the field for 38 percent. Deng was largely responsible for shutting him down, and it was only when the Thunder started running screens and getting Deng off of him that Durant started drawing fouls and scoring points.

Don't let the 17 free throws fool you, Deng didn't foul him one time. 

Then in the following game, when Antawn Jamison was causing all kinds of problems in the third quarter, scoring 10 points in that frame, Thibodeau pulled Boozer and played Deng at power forward. Jamison only made one more field goal on three shots for the duration of the game. 

Then, against the Lakers, he shut down Ron Artest, who was only 1-6 from the field, but that wasn't all he did. He also lent considerable help defense when Lamar Odom got going, and shut him down. Then he also lent help defense to guard Kobe Bryant, who went 9-23 from the field.

While the accolades for taking over and winning the game deservedly and appropriately go to Derrick Rose, the man who kept them in the game and kept it from running away was Luol Deng by consistently helping his team to get the stops.

Those fans who are eager to get rid of "the contract" need to stop and consider what they're giving away. Of the five players mentioned, only LeBron actually scores more than Deng. He's a competent offensive player with great defense. That's a pretty nice commodity.

The Chicago Bulls are wise to keep the investment.   

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