There have been complaints about Luol Deng's contract, about him disappearing in the end of games and about him just generally not being Carmelo Anthony on the wing. In all of this complaining about what Luol is not, what is lost is sight of what Luol is, and what he is is a very unique kind of player that isn't easily replaced.
The more I hear this talk, the more annoyed I get. It makes me want to take the complainer on a "Scrooge Trip" through the Chicago Bulls' past, present and future without Luol. If you stop complaining about what he's not doing long enough to realize what he is doing, you'll be done complaining for good.
First let's look at the contract issue and put this thing to rest forever. Right now there are 15 players in the NBA that are averaging Deng's 17 points, six rebounds, and two assists or better. Of those 15 players three are making less money. Two of those, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin, are playing under rookie contracts.
The other, David West, had a front-loaded contract so that he was making more money than Deng, but now is making less. Essentially, though, the contracts are roughly equal in total value. The rest are making more money, and most of them are making a lot more money. So let's put the contract complaints to rest shall we?
Next, let's consider the other thing that fact tells us: Deng is pretty darned good. When only 15 players are doing what you're doing, that makes you a pretty danged good player. Does it make you an MVP candidate? No. But then, how many MVPs has Anthony ever won?
As far as stats go, that shows he's in a pretty special tier of players. Fellow B/R writer, Erik Felkey, wrote a fantastic piece today on the best "glue guys" in the NBA right now, and while he named Joakim Noah as the best glue guy for the Bulls, it's a claim that could just as easily be made by Deng.
Some say stats don't mean everything, but sometimes what people who say that fail to realize is that sometimes stats aren't saying enough. Deng moves so well without the ball.
More and more lately he almost always seems to be where he is supposed to be. When Derrick Rose drives and needs to kick, it seems that Deng is always in the perfect place for the kick, standing all alone with no opponents around, camped out behind the three-point line.
It doesn't matter if he makes every one of those. The fact that he can is making defenses chase him down. Sometimes he drives, sometimes he passes, sometimes he shoots. And yeah, sometimes he makes mistakes. But so what? Most of the time he doesn't.
In fact, the only Bulls starter with a higher offensive rating is Noah, and keep in mind that he's on the floor more often than any player. He does a lot of little things that make that offense run, just by being where he needs to be when he needs to be there.
Furthermore, keep in mind that he leads the offense when the bench is out there most of the time. And, most importantly, don't forget about his three-point shooting. He's second only to Rose on the team in three-point shooting.
Guess how many players in the league are averaging 17 points, six rebounds, two assists and one-and-a-half threes-pointers per game? Two, Deng and Durant. Is Deng even close to Durant? No, and that's not what I'm saying either. What I am saying is that Deng possesses an across the board skill set that has it's own value. He doesn't do anything on offense historically well, but he does everything reasonably well.
That's an across the board skill set that is hard to find. And I posit that the across the board skill set that Deng provides is more important to the Bulls than those extra six or seven points Anthony would ever be able to bring. No, it's not as spectacular as what Anthony would bring, but the team might be better with Deng.
I'm not saying that Deng is a better offensive player than Anthony. I know he's not. I'm saying that what the Bulls need in their offense might be more important than what Anthony brings. The brain surgeon might be smarter than my mechanic, but trust me, if I need my car fixed, I'm talking to my mechanic. It doesn't matter who is more skilled if the skills you need aren't provided by the more skilled person.
And all of that is nothing compared to the defensive end. Deng is just a flat-out better defensive player than Anthony, and there is a reason that coach Tom Thibodeau has been speaking out about how important Deng is to the team, too. He's a defensive-minded coach, and he knows which side the bread is buttered on, so to speak.
Deng makes this defense work. He's downright ubiquitous on the defensive end. He guards anywhere from the two to the four, and sometimes even the the five. He's consistently shutting down or slowing down the league's best players.
Here's something you really have to stop and consider. Right now, according to synergy, Deng is only giving up .77 points per play, ranked 37th. By comparison, Anthony ranks 234th and yields .95 points per play. The difference between Deng and Anthony on defense can be argued to be as much in favor of Deng as the offensive distinction is in favor of Anthony.
Now you might be thinking, sure, but when the game is on the line I want Anthony in there to take the shot. I'll grant you that. Anthony is a premier clutch shooter, but I'll add this: We have one of those. And then, I'll remind you of a couple of games in the last month.
Earlier this season the Detroit Pistons had the ball. Tracy McGrady was looking like the T-Mac of old and doing his best to make the Bulls regret not signing him. He had the ball on a last possession and Deng d'd him up. Deng just stuck to him. He was so stuck on him that you can't use a simile for it because it was worth its own simile. From now on, instead of saying "like white on rice," you should say "like Deng on T-Mac." That's how stuck he was. McGrady never got a shot and the Bulls won.
Then what about the Orlando Magic game recently? Remember when it looked like the Magic were going to work the inevitable magic and comeback and win? They had the ball and were going to cut the score down to one when Deng jumped out of nowhere and somehow he just grabbed that ball and then the game was over. Deng isn't going to sink some game-winners, but he might make sure one doesn't need to be made.
In some ways, I'm not disappointed that Deng will miss the All-Star game; he could use the rest. Whether he's an All-Star or not is hard to say. Certainly Anthony is. But championship teams aren't All-Star teams. You need some star power, but too much can ruin things. Deng is the right fit, a better fit than Anthony would be. It's time for fans to start appreciating what he does and stop worrying about what he isn't.