PHILADELPHIAWhen Derrick Rose has been out of the lineup this season, the Bulls have lost one game, to Memphis on Martin Luther King Day. With Luol Deng sidelined, theyve fallen twice, to Indiana last week and Sunday at Miami.
No ones suggesting Deng is a better player than Rose though Rose, last seasons league MVP, referred to Deng as the teams MVP but as Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau often says, the small forward is the glue of the squad.
Furthermore, while no one on the roster, or for that matter, the league, can duplicate what Rose brings to the table, backup point guard C.J. Watson (and even third-stringer John Lucas III) have shown the ability to thrive in Chicagos point-guard oriented offense, which is heavy on pick-and-roll play.
However, no disrespect to fill-in starter Ronnie Brewer, there is no way to emulate what Deng does. The versatile Brewer is actually as close as it gets, given that, like Deng, hes a capable slasher, moves well without the ball, takes pride in his defense and is a much-improved outside shooter.
But while Brewer has done an admirable job in a replacement role, Dengs size was missing when the Bulls took on the Heat. No individual player in the NBA completely shuts down LeBron James, but Deng makes him work for every bucket and team sources, while disappointed in the loss, are confident that with Deng in the lineup (not to mention Watson), they truly have the edge over Miami this season.
While the likes of Rip Hamilton and Carlos Boozer can certainly score the basketball, Deng is the teams clear-cut secondary scorer. Monday night in Washington, the small forward maintained his stance that hes still day-to-day with torn ligaments in his left wrist, though there have been multiple false alarms about his imminent return along the way.
With a day off Tuesday and no opportunity to take contact in practice something Thibodeau usually desires when a player returns from a layoff its unlikely that he plays in Wednesday nights contest in Philadelphia.
With a back-to-back Thursday in New York, the next time Deng takes the court could be either Saturdays tilt against the Bucks in Milwaukee (after a chance to check in with doctors in Chicago) or next Monday in his adopted home state of New Jersey, where he played high school basketball.
Regardless of when hes back in the lineup and by no means should he rush back, as Brewer has filled in capably and in this condensed season, the bigger picture is long-term health heading into the postseason, even if it hurts his chances for a debut All-Star Game appearance expect the Bulls to receive a boost from his all-around game.