Last summer all eyes were focused on South Beach, watching LeBron and Bosh flock to Miami to team up with D-Wade, forming the most hated threesome since the Jonas Brothers (arguable). While they were patting one another on the back and getting fitted for their “multiple championship” rings somewhere in the south side of Chicago Derrick Rose was lacing up his shoes and going to work.
What Rose (and his Bulls) has done this season is no small feat:
- Raised his scoring average from 20.8 to 25 a game
- Raised his averages in: assists, rebounds, steals, free-throw %, and 3 point %
- Went from first-time All-Star in ‘10 to All-Star Starter this year
- Was the only consistent offensive option for 81 out of 82 regular season games for the #1 team in the NBA
The Bulls finished 8th in the East last season (41-41) and lost to LeBron’s Cavaliers in five games this time last year. This year they finished with the best record in the NBA (62-20), secured home court advantage throughout the playoffs, and won their first playoff series since 2007.
Chicago’s improvement has been well documented. Be it the coaching change: from Vinny Del Negro, a mild-mannered offensive coach to Tom Thibodeau, a defensive guru; to the additions of key players Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, Kurt Thomas, and Carlos Boozer. This is a different and better Bulls team.
On Monday the Bulls finished off the pesky Pacers (116-89) in five games. Rose sprained his ankle in Game 4 and looked hobbled throughout Game 5. Rose needed help closing out the series and someone (finally) stepped up and matched Rose’s intensity (and point total, 24) and filled the much needed role of the Bulls number two scoring option.
Luol Deng, the Dukie who the Bulls had awarded with a lucrative contract extension in 2008 (6 years, $71 million), who they’ve been (overly) patient with through the years, and who has yet to stand out and embrace his role with the team played a great Game 5, and the Bulls haven’t looked better.
The Sudanese-British product left Duke after one year and was drafted 7th overall by Chicago in 2004. He’s dealt with injuries (missing 89 games in his seven seasons), coaching changes (5 different head coaches), and vastly different rosters in his time with the Bulls, and his numbers have fluctuated because of it.
When Chicago traded for Carlos Boozer over the summer it was widely assumed that he would step into that number two slot, but Boozer has done what he always does (under perform his contract unless it’s a big game or he’s in a contract year). This season hasn’t provided a clear answer for who #2 on the Bulls really is.
Boozer: 17.5 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists a game (59 games)
Noah: 11.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1 steal, 1.5 blocks a game (48 games)
Deng: 17.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1 steal a game (82 games)
Noah is the more consistent, game-altering option because of his defensive prowess, intensity, and rebounding. He’s just not a big enough threat offensively (yet). Boozer can deliver 20pt and 10reb games any night, but he lacks said intensity and checks out of games far too often. Both of them missed significant time this season (57 games combined) so the sample size is small, but they don’t fit the bill for a solid number two option.
Then there’s Deng whos only fault to this point in his career is his unselfishness (and that he went to Duke). In a season where Boozer and Noah missed extended time Deng had an opportunity to assert himself and become Pippen to Rose’s Jordan. Instead he deferred to Rose more and more. To his credit Deng did have a 40 point outing against the Blazers along with a game-winning three to beat the Heat this season. Performances like that show his talent and ask the question: why not do that every night, Luol?
On Monday it was a 24 point performance, matching Rose. Factoring in his six rebounds, seven assists, and three steals you get one of the best games of Luol’s career. History says we won’t see this from him for the remainder of the playoffs. If the Bulls want to break through and win a title this year he’ll need to step out from Rose’s shadow and embrace his role as number two. If he does that we’ll witness two players, a’ la Jordan and Pippen carry Chi-town to a title once again.
About the Author
Written by Frank Sullivan
Frank is a graduate of Old Dominion University, sports fan, author, and founder of TheBloosh.com. He's been working with prosportsblogging.com since April 2011, and has covered the Chicago Bulls, Baltimore Ravens, Virginia Tech Hokies Football, and the Washington Wizards. Frank can be reached @franksullivan on twitter.