Deng's defensive effort praised by peers


Deng's defensive effort praised by peers

Thursday, April 7, 2011
Posted: 1:32 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam

Its no secret that the Bulls are one of the elite defensive units in the NBA. When its all said and done, however, theres a chance that none of their players will reap any individual benefits for their stinginess on that end of the floor.

Luol Deng, in particular, has established himself as the teams top defender. The seventh-year pro has guarded a variety of positions and while hes not considered a lockdown guy on the level of Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen, his determination, size and length clearly bother his opponents on a nightly basis.

Not that Deng was a poor defender coming into this season, but playing in first-year Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeaus help-oriented scheme has elevated his prowess on that side of the ball this season. Even if voters for the leagues All-Defensive Team dont notice, his teammates certainly have.

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I can see a big improvement in his defense, Bulls guard Jannero Pargo, who has now played with Deng in three separate stints with the Bulls after being signed by the team last month, told CSNChicago.com.

The main thing is, hes getting up and putting pressure on guys, hes challenging shots and hes accepting the challenge, he continued. If somebody gets it going, we can put Lu on him and hell shut him down.

Thibodeaus defensive scheme helps him incredibly. Here, the philosophy is were all on a string. If a guy even looks like hes about to get beat, the next guy rotates and everybody else falls in line. I think its a great scheme to have and its been working out, not only for Lu, but for the entire team.

Added Taj Gibson: The minutes hes played just shows he goes full steam. Hes always the first guy to sprint to every loose ball. Every time hes on defense, he has good drops, so I dont see why Deng wouldnt make the All-Defensive Team.

Ronnie Brewer, regarded as a solid perimeter defender himselfBrewers strength is playing the passing lanes for steals, a category in which he leads the Bullsthought highly of Deng before arriving in Chicago. Now, however, he fully appreciates his teammates combination of talent and work ethic.

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I thought overall he was just solid. He was solid on both ends of the floor. If youre a student of the game, you know the game of basketball, I think hes one of the most underrated players in the league. He doesnt get a lot of attention, but he brings it, night in and night out, and he doesnt really get recognized for the effort he makes defensively, Brewer told CSNChicago.com. The little things that he doeshelping, sliding over, taking charges, really slowing down his man, no matter who it isactually being on his team, you can see it up close and personal, the job that he does. Hes done a phenomenal job this year.

Brewer also believes that Deng should receive consideration for postseason honors, but noted that other Bulls have also stepped up their defense.

You can go with a lot of guys on this team. A lot of guys have stepped up out of the norm form what theyve done and taken it a step higher. Boozers playing better defense, D. Rose, Keith is always a solid defender, Joakim is in there, Taj, Omerits a lot of guys on the teambut thats part of the reason were one of the better-defending teams in this league.

Thibodeau, who only stumps for his players through the media on occasion, has made it a point to highlight Dengs all-around game this season.

It would be a shame if Lu got overlooked. By far, hes our best individual and team defender. He takes the challenge, guards twos, threes and fours. Weve had a lot of guys make big improvement this year and the teams committed to each other, and thats why the defense works, said Thibodeau, who cited former protgs Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett, as well as Phoenixs Grant Hill, Houstons Chuck Hayes and ex-Bulls Kirk Hinrich and Thabo Sefolosha as worthy candidates. He plays great defense, both individual and team defense.

Hes an all-around player and he adds a lot to the team. I dont think his statistics reflect how valuable he is to our team.

As an example, he used Dengs late-game defense on Phoenixs Vince Carter in the Bulls narrow win Tuesday.

It wasnt a great game for him for three quarters of the game, but in the end, hes going to do whatever is needed. Hes a great competitor. Vince is a tough player. The only thing you can do in those situations is make him work as much possible, explained Thibodeau. Luol, you cant say enough about what he does for our team each and every night. You cant measure it statistically. The guy has a lot of toughnessmental toughnessand he never quits. Hell keep coming, hell keep battling and you need that.

As for Deng, while he usually eschews individual praise, he did show an interest in receiving acclaim for his defense.

It would be great. With the team defense we have, I think having someone on there makes sense, said Deng. The teams defensive scheme helped me more than my offense. The trust in my teammates being there, just knowing the system in and out, kind of just going with the game plan, taking those guys strengths away.

I really like the responsibility of just taking whoever the main guy is, if I can. Other nights, some other guy might be playing him better. All year, Ive been taking that challenge and it really comes back to everyone giving something different to the team when one thing isnt going right.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Bulls Bracket Madness: The best individual seasons in franchise history


Bulls Bracket Madness: The best individual seasons in franchise history

We're trying to figure out the best season in Bulls franchise history, and we want your help in deciding.

Because the Bulls tout the greatest player in basketball history, who could have made up this list by himself, we're giving Michael Jordan his own side of the bracket. But the other side of the bracket is also filled with some pretty memorable and remarkable campaigns.

So read up on each matchup and then have your voice heard by voting on our Twitter page here. Check out the entire bracket in the graphic above.

The Jordan Region

No. 1 Michael Jordan (1995-96) vs. No. 8 Michael Jordan (1990-91)

No. 1 Michael Jordan (1995-96): Jordan was on a mission in his first full season back from retirement. He led the Bulls to a then-record 72 wins with a regular-season MVP award, All-Star MVP and romp through the NBA playoffs, where the Bulls went 15-3 en route to their fourth NBA title. Jordan won his eighth straight scoring title at 30.4 points a game, with nine games where he put up 40 or more. He saved his best for Detroit, scoring 53 with 11 rebounds and six steals in early March. To prove Jordan was getting better as he aged, he shot a career-high 43 percent from 3-point range at age 33.

No. 2 Michael Jordan (1990-91): 1990-91: Jordan's second MVP came with his first NBA title, as he was at the peak of his powers physically combined with the ultimate team success, with the Bulls finally getting past Detroit before defeating the Lakers in the Finals. He shot a career-high 54 percent from the field while averaging 31.5 points, six rebounds and 5.5 assists as he began to fully embrace the triangle offense in Phil Jackson's second season. Jordan had 57 games where he shot better than 50 percent from the field, and was among the league leaders in steals at 2.7 per game while earning his fourth straight All-Defensive First Team honor.

No. 1 Derrick Rose (2010-11) vs. No. 2 Scottie Pippen (1993-94)

No. 1 Derrick Rose (2010-11): Where to begin? The youngest MVP in league history took the league by storm, averaging 25.0 points and 7.7 assists while leading the Bulls to a league-best 62 wins. Rose had been named an All-Star the previous season but took his game to new heights in Year 3, appearing in 81 games, making 128 3-pointers (after making a combined 32 his first two seasons) while helping the Bulls rank first in defensive efficiency under first year head coach Tom Thibodeau. Rose and the Bulls lost in five games to LeBron James and the Miami Heat, with Rose shooting a paltry 35 percent on 24 attempts per game. But his historic season will always go down as one of the franchise’s best, and the only non-Jordan MVP.

No. 2 Scottie Pippen (1993-94): Yeah, well what would Scottie be without MJ? We found out that answer in 1993-94, when Pippen took the reins of the franchise as Jordan rode the Birmingham bus as a minor-league baseball player. Pippen responded with a sensational season, averaging 22.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists. He averaged 2.9 steals, shot 49 percent from the field and became a 3-point threat for the first time in his career. He was named First Team All-NBA and All-NBA Defensive First Team, and finished third to Hakeem and The Admiral in MVP voting. He averaged 22.8/8.3/4.6 in the postseason but ultimately proved it was easier to win in the spring with MJ by his side. Still, this individual season was one of the franchise’s best, if not the best. Hardware isn’t everything.

NBA Draft Tracker: Kentucky PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander


NBA Draft Tracker: Kentucky PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

For most of the college basketball season, John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats ranked among the nation’s biggest underachievers. Calipari had perfected the one-and-done route in Lexington, recruiting classes full of McDonald’s All-Americans every year, making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, and then sending those talented freshmen off to the NBA. Matter of fact, Coach Cal’s ability to get players ready to play professionally is the foundation of his recruiting success.

However, this season the tried and true formula ran into a bit of a speed bump. Injuries and inconsistency led to double digit losses for the Wildcats during the regular season, and an uncertain tournament outlook. That’s when freshman point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander emerged as the leader of this young team, and sparked Kentucky to a Southeastern Conference tournament championship.

Gilgeous-Alexander has been even better in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 19 points with 8 rebounds and 7 assists in the Wildcats’ opening round win over Davidson, then coming back with 27 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists in a victory over Buffalo.

At 6-6, Gilgeous-Alexander has the ability to shoot and pass over smaller defenders, while also possessing the quickness that is so crucial at the point guard position. Yes, he is very thin at 180 pounds, but has the frame to put on weight once he’s introduced to an NBA strength training program.

Gilgeous-Alexander has been Kentucky’s most efficient player throughout the season, shooting 49% from the field and nearly 42% from the 3 point line. He has the quickness and ball-handling ability to break down defenses and get in the paint for easy scores or assists. As the season progressed, Gilgeous-Alexander took on the role of go-to scorer late in games, sparking Kentucky’s runs in the S.E.C. AND NCAA tournaments.

So, by now I’m sure you’re asking, where does he fit with the Bulls? 3 weeks ago I was hoping Gilgeous-Alexander might be available in the 16-22 range where the Bulls might be able to get him with the Pelicans’ 1st round pick acquired in the Niko Mirotic trade. Unfortunately, his outstanding post-season play has him rocketing into the late lottery in the most recent mock drafts, and he could move up even higher if Kentucky advances to the Final 4.

The Bulls are happy with Kris Dunn as their starting point guard, and both Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne are under contract for next season. But if somehow the Pelicans fall out of the playoff field in the West (which seems very unlikely right now), adding an athletic combo guard like Gilgeous-Alexander would be an outstanding pick at 13 or 14.

So, when you’re watching Kentucky play in the NCAA Tournament, keep an eye on the tall, skinny guard wearing #22 and try to project just how good he might be on the professional level.