No disrespect to C.J. Watson, but when replacing a player like Derrick Rose, it takes a village. In the Bulls Tuesday night win over Sacramento, a surprising source, All-Star small forward Luol Deng -- not fill-in Watson, usual third-stringer John Lucas, who had a strong outing off the bench in a backup role, or newly re-acquired veteran Mike James, point guards all -- led the Bulls in assists, handing out a career-high 11.
As versatile as Deng is on the floor, one knock on him throughout his career has been although hes an effective slasher, he isnt the most proficient ballhandler for his position. Dengs offensive game is primarily based on getting to the basket or setting up pull-up jumpers off one or two dribbles, as well as moving without the ball, finishing in transition, spot-up shots from long range and when he has a mismatch, posting up smaller defenders.
In the offseason, Deng starred for Great Britains national team in the FIBA EuroBasket tournament and while the squad struggled, he got valuable experience as a primary ballhandler, being the teams focal point. Additionally, prior to the lockout, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau encouraged him to further develop that aspect of his game.
Its something we spoke about. The first thing Thibs said to improve after taking the Bulls head-coaching job was my three-point shooting, extending my range a little bit. Then, last year, it was I wanted to handle the ball more and the two things last year was the ballhandling and the post. I know I havent been in the post as much, but if its needed, Ive been working on that, still work on that with Griff and I work on my ballhandling a lot with Griff, but I got a chance to handle it a lot with the national team, Deng explained after the Bulls Wednesday-afternoon practice. Its definitely helped us a lot, especially when I rebound and I push it. Were a lot faster coming down the floor and trying to get easy baskets.
Added Thibodeau about the first-time All-Star, who hell join, along with Rose, in Orlando on Feb. 26 as the Eastern Conferences head coach: He was terrific, played an all-around game, played very good defense, scored, he play-maked and he was leading, and thats what we count on him every game. Whatever the team needs, he provides.
We like some of the stuff that hes been doing lately and we wanted to go to it more, and its an option that we have. Hes a very unselfish player, so if theres two players on him, we always want him to hit the open man, he continued. Jo was playmaking, too. We like the versatility of both Jo and Luol to make plays.
As for the Bulls starting point guard, Rose wasnt at the Berto Center with his teammates, who had a light practice, reviewing film and shooting, according to Thibodeau. Instead, he was seeing a back specialist about his recurring lower back spasms.
Still day-to-day. Hes still not quite ready, so well see where he is and each day hes gotten better. Were encouraged by that, said Thibodeau. Hes off-site getting treatment right now. Hes doing well."
The coach, however, wouldnt speculate about his superstars return.
Hes just doing his rehab right now, so well see.