Thibodeau Won’t Stop Leaning On Deng



NEW YORK – The Bulls’ Luol Deng is one of the many NBA players currently on the shelf in this crazy, condensed season. Deng has missed the last seven games with a torn ligament in his left wrist.

With Thursday’s 105-102 win over the Knicks, the Bulls are now 4-3 without Deng. His team is surviving, but taking the floor without his glue guy has to be driving coach Tom Thibodeau crazy.

Thibodeau leans on Deng more than any other player. Derrick Rose was the MVP last season, but Deng played almost 200 more minutes than Rose did, because he was not only the team’s starting small forward, but also the anchor of its highly effective second unit.

Deng ranked third in the league in minutes last season, behind only Monta Ellis and LaMarcus Aldridge. Of the Bulls’ 15 lineups that played at least 75 minutes together, 14 included Deng.

Bulls fans cringed whenever Thibodeau kept Deng in the game despite a large Chicago lead in the fourth quarter, wondering if the coach would eventually wear Deng out. Deng played 193 fourth-quarter minutes last season when the Bulls were up by 11 or more points. The only regular starter who played more fourth-quarter minutes with his team up 11 or more was Dwyane Wade (195). Rose played 134.

Deng is clearly the Bulls’ second-best player and arguably as important as Rose. In these seven games without Deng, the Bulls have allowed 102 points per 100 possessions, after allowing just 93 in their first 18.

But while this stretch without him may be hurting Chicago in the standings and its quest to repeat as the No. 1 defense in the league, it could also help in the long run. The Bulls’ no-Deng lineups are getting more floor time together, and players deep down the bench are getting some needed exposure.

The lineup of Rose, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah has held up pretty well (at least offensively) in 117 minutes together. And rookie Jimmy Butler played all but 10 seconds of the fourth quarter on Thursday, hitting a big shot with just over a minute to go.

Thibodeau says that Deng is “getting close” to being ready to play again. “He’s doing more and more each day,” the coach said before Thursday’s game. But Thibodeau wouldn’t entertain the notion that this stretch is allowing him to get more comfortable with having Deng on the bench.

“I’m comfortable with the minutes he plays,” Thibodeau said. “There’s a reason why he plays those minutes. I’m confident in our bench. We have a bench that’s more than capable. I think that if you studied the teams in the league over the years, there’s players that have averaged those minutes, and it’s fine. So that’s the way we’ll go.”

Yep, when Deng returns, his coach will go right back to leaning on him for big minutes.

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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

9 Comments

  1. ko0kiE says:

    why should thibs not leaning on deng? he is a phenomenal two-way player.. he should make the all-star team this year.. he is so underrated.

  2. Zayad says:

    give me a break! Look at the level of competion the bulls faced while rose was out (washington, new jersey, sacramento, and charlotte!) hardly the cream of the crop if you ask me and compare that to some of the teams the bulls have played since deng has been out (miami, philadelphia, indiana) contenders in the east. just don’t look at the two records and jump to premature conclusions!

  3. weremole says:

    I will try to trade Boozer and keep Taj to the team. Boozer is only good player with not play-off contender teams and against good defensive teams his jumpers are not so good. For 15 miliona $ he should play a lot better

  4. kia800 says:

    Well Noah is already signed to a contract so the bulls got him, we will have too probably choose between Gibson and Asik. I’d keep Gibson because I’m not 100% sold on Boozer

  5. Jimbo says:

    I think it’s very interesting to mention that the Bulls had a better record during that stretch when DRose was out than now without Luol. Because Rose is mostly a offensive weapon (no disrespect to his defense which has really improved) and CJ and John Lucas are offensive-minded PGs as well (though not quite the talentlevel of Rose, and Deng is just such a great defender, doing all the things that do not appear on the statsheet. He’s GOTTA be an All-Star eventhough some mention his stats are not quite there, especially “just” 15 ppg or so. But when you take a closer look at that you realize that he’s had mostly 20+ point games this season, and just 2-3 very low-scoring games with just 2-4 points which dropped the stats. If this Bulls-group were healthy from now on till the rest of the season they’d finish first in the league with a record of 60-6.

  6. Bulls4life says:

    Get will sonn Luol. With you and Rip healthy, the Bulls are unstopabull. Chicago Bulls 2012 NBA Champions!

  7. prix says:

    The Bulls were like 10 player deep…that´s what you need to make a strong contender for a championship…that´s why Denver keeps on winning…they just put the all star Clips to trash…

  8. Anthony says:

    He’s that important to the team with the best record in the east and he doesn’t even make it on to the snubs list for the east reserves on this website – that makes no sense.

  9. joblagz says:

    yet people say rose is the only one in the bull’s team..
    the only reason rose is enjoying a plethora of good players in his team is because his salary is below 10m..
    with the extension, i doubt they can keep noah or taj gibson..