By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Oct 16 2012 2:37PM
DEERFIELD, Ill. -- No one around the Chicago Bulls has to worry about Luol Deng suddenly trying to do too much in a misguided attempt to ease the team's loss of Derrick Rose for a significant portion of this season.
Doing too much already is Deng's job description.
The ninth-year forward will be playing entirely in character once again, Rose or (mostly) no Rose, for the Bulls in 2012-13. In character, that is, the way Alec Guinness, Mike Myers or Eddie Murphy have been in some of their most famous multi-role movies. Heck, the way coach Tom Thibodeau uses Deng, you'd think he was an army of Agent Smiths straight off The Matrix.
Deng is the only player in the league to average more than 39 minutes across the past two seasons. He missed 12 of the 66 games last season with injuries and still logged nearly 200 minutes more than Carlos Boozer, second on the Bulls and perfect in attendance in 2011-12.
Deng had an All-Star season at small forward, averaging 15.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists. He was the Bulls' next-best offensive option to Rose, despite Boozer's and Richard Hamilton's presence, and a threat from the arc, the corners and on slashes to the rim. Thibodeau leans on Deng to guard some of the NBA's most potent scorers, uses him at times as the power forward when going small and alarms the locals by keeping his minutes high even late in lopsided games.
Oh, and lest we forget, Deng has a torn ligament in his left wrist that still hasn't been surgically repaired. Playing with that alone might qualify as doing too much.
"The wrist is the wrist," Deng said as the Bulls opened camp. "I'm expecting to be asked about it all year, but I've just got to go out and play, play as hard as I can, do what I can do. Whether it's one arm or two arms or no arms, I'm going to be the best I can be."
The imagery has been used before: The Bulls of 2011-12 were not unlike "Monty Python's Dark Knight", the plucky sentry who guards a bridge and spits suit-of-armor vinegar even as he's losing a swordfight limb by limb. Chicago lost Rose, Hamilton, C.J. Watson and Deng to injuries for chunks of the season, yet managed to lead the NBA in victories for the second straight year.
Deng's painful wrist tear came early -- he missed seven games in late January due to it, then two more in March -- and appeared to affect him. His shooting percentage dropped from 43.1 percent in the first 18 games to 40.2 over his final 36. He seemed to favor it, sticking to his right to dribble and short-arming with his left in the passing lanes.
Surgery was said to be the only real fix, but Deng opted to play. He didn't want to miss the Bulls' playoff run. Also, the native of the South Sudan had his eye on the 2012 London Olympics, competing for the host national team in his adopted England, which had given safe harbor to Deng's family in his youth.
Rose's blown ACL near the end of the first-round opener clipped Chicago's postseason short, and some media and fans clamored for Deng to go under the knife then, giving him a head start on recovery. But he stuck with his Olympic vision for one of the biggest thrills of his life.
And guess what? He never did have surgery and might not. Deng shot 31.4 percent in five games in London, including 20 percent (7 of 35) from the arc. But he said the wrist (non-shooting hand) didn't bother him and has not limited him in Bulls practices so far. He and the team's training staff believe that muscles have compensated and grown stronger -- Kobe Bryant reportedly had a similar injury a few years ago and played on without a repair. And of course Deng has gotten used to playing through whatever discomfort remains.
"He was very optimistic prior to the Olympics, where he felt he wouldn't need the surgery," Thibodeau said at media day. "Obviously we feel very good about that. He's in great shape, as he always is. He's a winning player. I don't think you can ever measure him statistically. Whatever the game needs, Lu provides. He's a great leader."
So Deng will keep on keeping on, understanding the concept of a player doing too much -- "He'd probably end up sitting on the bench. That would be Thibs' problem to worry about" -- without internalizing it. To him, doing too much is doing just enough.
1. Seriously, though, when might Rose return? The recovery range staked out by Bulls surgeon Brian Cole was "eight to 12 months" from the moment of injury. If Rose hit that right in the middle, at 10 months, he'd be back at the end of February. That would give him and the Bulls 24 games and nearly six weeks to ready for the playoffs. Experts suggest he likely won't be at his 2011 MVP form for a solid year, but a fresh, hungry Rose added to a No. 6 or No. 7 Chicago squad could make real postseason noise.
2. The "Bench Mob" might have deserved breaking up just for swiping that tired old nickname, but the Bulls shed Watson, Omer Asik, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer in a series of money decisions. Can replacements from the NBA spare parts bin -- Marco Belinelli, Vladimir Radmanovic, Nate Robinson, Nazr Mohammed -- provide the elite depth that Chicago's second unit developed? Jimmy Butler, a rookie last year, earned a shot at Brewer's role and Kirk Hinrich was added to keep Rose's spot warm.
3. Boozer never had played every game in a regular season but did so in his 11th year (it helped there only were 66). Joakim Noah got within two of the max for the first time in five tries. Combo big Taj Gibson can step into one of their spots, but if both revert to injury form, Thibodeau will have to go much smaller than he prefers.
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LAST YEAR: 50-16, 1st in Central
FINISH: Lost in first round of playoffs
2011-12 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2011-12 Stats|
KIRK HINRICH, GUARD
6.6 PPG | 2.1 RPG | 2.8 APG
Familiar Bulls face returns to Chicago after two seasons away in Washington and Atlanta. He'll serve as Rose placeholder, and then as a combo guard reserve.
RICHARD HAMILTON, GUARD
11.6 PPG | 2.4 RPG | 3.0 APG
Veteran still one of the best in the league coming of screens for a shot. He hopes to wring out whatever game he has left after dismal, injury-riddled season.
LUOL DENG, FORWARD
15.3 PPG | 6.5 RPG | 2.9 APG
The Bulls longtime workhorse finally became an All-Star last season. Coach Tom Thibodeau will play him hard again, even after deferring surgery on his gimpy wrist.
CARLOS BOOZER, FORWARD
15.0 PPG | 8.5 RPG | 1.9 APG
The percieved weak link the Bulls' starting lineup is still an 18-10 man (per 36 minutes, anyway). Rose's absence requires a bigger, Jazz-like offensive role now.
JOAKIM NOAH, CENTER
10.2 PPG | 9.8 RPG | 2.5 APG
Slid offensively last season but was still a near double-double guy despite a decline. The Bulls need more than just his motor and good health.
|Taj Gibson||6-9||225||F||Sixth man candidate backing up Boozer and Noah.|
|Jimmy Butler||6-7||220||F||Raw Ronnie Brewer replacement claims improved shooting.|
|Marco Belinelli||6-5||192||G||Career 3FG% (39.9) just shy of departed Kyle Korver's 41.3.|
ADDED: G Marco Belinelli, G Kirk Hinrich, C Nazr Mohammed, F Vladimir Radmanovic, G Nate Robinson
LOST: C Omer Asik, G Ronnie Brewer, G/F Kyle Korver, G John Lucas III, F Brian Scalabrine, G C.J. Watston
CARLOS BOOZER, POWER FORWARD
The Bulls will be in a tough position for much of the regular season as Derrick Rose recovers from an ACL injury. Everyone will be called upon to step, and none more than Boozer, whose numbers and production have dipped since signing with Chicago.
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