Top 50 NBA Players: #44 Luol Deng

Luol Deng
Resume: 16.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists (career best), 1.1 steals, 38.7 minutes (1st in league), 43% FG, and 82% FT (career best)… Team record in games played: 42-33 (3-4 without)… Playoffs: 13.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists (career best), 1.0 steal, 44.8 minutes (career best), 38% FG, 40% FT, 3-2 record (2-5 without)… All-Star

I like to encompass a wide range of opinions when I’m making this list. Sure, the final product is my own magnificent creation, but I use the opinions of friends, strangers, writers, players and team officials to put together this list you have hopefully been reading and loving for the last week or so. For example: If player A sounds off on how tough player B is to guard, or how he is the heart of the team, I make a note of that and will let that impact the rankings. If a free agent gets a contract that I feel is far too steep for a player of his caliber, I’ll usually reconsider my position on the player (Except for San Antonio paying Tiago Splitter $36 million over the next four years, a mind-boggling number after seeing how incredibly ineffective he was in the postseason). Even though running an NBA team is clearly an inexact science, I generally take the opinions of management pretty seriously.

Mar 27, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls small forward Luol Deng (9) brings the ball up court against the Miami Heat during the second half at the United Center. The Bulls beat the Heat 101-97. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s rewind and go back to the end of June 2013. On the verge of one of the weakest perceived draft classes in NBA history, there were rumors galore circulating amongst NBA insiders and websites that there was going to be all kinds of movement in the impending NBA Draft, which would’ve been a blessing for NBA fans considering there wasn’t a whole lot to be excited about from the prospects themselves. Instead the 2013 NBA Draft will be remembered for the following: Anthony Bennett getting selected with the 1st pick (a complete and total shock, just ask Bill Simmons), Jay Bilas once again acknowledging the Jay Bilas Wingspan Drinking Game, Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira’s afro, David Stern owning the crowd in his final NBA Draft like only he could and getting the standing ovation he deserved, and the Doc Rivers/Bill Simmons exchange. There wasn’t nearly as much movement as was expected, but the rumors definitely told some interesting stories.

Here is where I tell you what all of this has to do with Luol Deng. One of the hottest trade rumors at the time was that Chicago had offered Deng to Washington for the #3 pick in the draft plus Emeka Okafor. At first glance this trade seemed awfully one sided. Deng was coming off an All-Star season. He’s an absolute workhorse who for the 2nd straight season played more minutes per game than anyone else in the league, is a very good defensive player, and is someone capable of being the 3rd best player on a championship team. So why would Chicago trade him for a backup center and a lottery pick in a draft that featured very few sure things? Why get rid of a guy who played his best game of the year in the biggest regular season game of the season; a 101-97 Bulls win over the Miami Heat, riding a 27 game win streak, where Deng played 44 minutes, scored 28 points, grabbed 7 rebounds and dished out 5 assists while also contending with the best basketball player in the world (Spoiler alert: It’s not Dwyane Wade). How could they dump Deng after he nearly died due to complications from a spinal tap, yet still tried to come back in Chicago’s 2nd Round series against Miami?

The rational explanation is that I over rated Luol Deng. Attempting to trade Deng for the 3rd pick tells me that Chicago thought they could go forward with Jimmy Butler (an honorable mention honorable mention), potentially Otto Porter (who they likely would’ve drafted with the 3rd pick), potentially Tony Snell (who they actually drafted with the 20th pick), and Mike Dunleavy Jr. (savvy free agency pickup) on the perimeter with Rose and co. Would dropping Deng out of that group make the Bulls drastically worse? Most likely not, and that’s why he dropped in my rankings from last year. The Bulls didn’t value Deng as much as I thought they did.