Was Bulls' secondary scorer there all along?


Was Bulls' secondary scorer there all along?

SAN FRANCISCOWhile Derrick Rose was busy adding a new chapter to his legacy Sunday at the Staples Center, Luol Deng was erasing a page of his own.

For too long now, Deng has been unfairly considered everything from an overpaid choke artist to simply a player incapable of being a teams leading man, let alone a legitimate sidekick.

Its time for that perception to end.

Now, the jury is still out on whether Carlos Boozer will ever justify his own massive contractkeep in mind that its still very early in the season, but from getting torched by Tyler Hansbrough in the preseason to displaying an inability to elevate, finish around the basket or score, despite his offseason weight loss, Boozers mission for redemption has gotten off to a rocky startand Rip Hamilton is still fitting in after only a handful of practices with his new team, but theres no reason to believe that Deng cant approximate his Christmas Day performance on a regular basis.

Because hes done it before. Maybe nothing as dramatic as his run of clutch plays down the stretch against the Lakersa fast-break dunk to quietly start the eventual comeback, a traditional three-point play after snaring his own missed shot, knocking down pressure-packed free throws and of course, stealing Kobe Bryants pass that led to Roses go-ahead floater, then continuing his tough defense on the Lakers superstar in the waning moments of the game and blocking the attempted game-winnerbut look back to last season and its evident that Dengs reputation of disappearing when it counts is a falsehood.

His defense on Bryant, ailing wrist or not, shouldnt surprise anyone who closely watched him battle LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals. Sure, James was dominant against the Bulls (Chicago fans probably wish whatever overcame him in the Finals against Dallas had afflicted him one playoff round earlier), but Deng made him work for every bucket, unlike most defenders, who get demoralized when the Heat star makes one of his typical game-changing plays.

In fact, outside of James, is there a better two-way player at small forward in the league than Deng?

No, Deng isnt the most prolific scorer at his position, but his versatility should move him up a few notches in the unofficial rankings, past non-elite talents who somehow garner more recognition.

Take a guy like Indianas Danny Granger. Not to pick on the Pacers small forwardwho Deng regularly makes life miserable forbut if Deng was the go-to scorer on that team, is there any doubt hed put up similar scoring numbers, as well as contribute more in other facets of the game?

When Deng was in that situationthough he shared the primary-scoring role with Ben Gordon, who usually had the ball in his hands when the game mattered, adding to the idea that Deng wasnt clutchboth he and the Bulls had their ups and downs, but at least they made the playoffs multiple times, even advancing to the second round.

Obviously, he doesnt have to worry about that these days, with Rose clearly established as the teams alpha dog (remember when, in Roses second season, then-Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro seemed to be unsure of whether Rose was ready to take on that burden?), but as a secondary scorer, the Bulls could do a lot worse.

With Boozer and Hamilton in tow, opponents have to at least respect the abilities of the pair of proven veterans, deflecting even more attention from Deng.

The strength of his game isnt necessarily breaking down his man in isolation and creating off the dribble, but instead his efficient mid-range shooting, using his size to his advantage, running with Rose in transition, cutting without the ball for easy baskets and knocking down open shots from beyond the arc -- something much improved from the early days of his career -- are his hallmarks.

However, a summer with Great Britains national team, where he was the squads offensive focal pointand only legitimate scoring optionin the FIBA EuroBasket tournament forced him to handle the ball more and create offense for himself, a trait that should help him and the Bulls down the road.

Reporting back to the Berto Center in great shape after playing in every game of last season and ranking third in the league in minutes per game, the Mohawk-sporting Deng appears to be picking up where he left off last season and unlike some of his teammates, the season didnt end, at least for him personally, on a low note, as he battled through postseason aches and pains and didnt cower in the spotlight.

If fans expect himor Boozer or Hamilton, for that matterto score 20-plus points a night, that probably wont happen, as Rose will get his numbers and the supporting cast will fall in line, with the three other proven veteran scorers routinely rotating who picks up the slack on a given night.

But all-around performances like Sundaysin addition to his 21 points, he also grabbed seven rebounds, swiped four steals and dished out three assistswill again be the norm for the longest-tenured member of the team, as will sparking the Bench Mob when hes in the game with the second unit and making plays at the right time, something both Rose and Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau undoubtedly appreciate more than gaudy scoring numbers.

In other words, while Boozer is being counted on to be a low-post presence, Hamilton will be relied upon to help extend the defense and Noahs energy and offensive development is vital to the teams success, the Bulls already have a clear-cut No. 2 to Rose in Deng.

If you didnt recognize that, then maybe you havent been paying attention. With all the criticism hes faced over the course of his career, its unlikely he cares; after all, hes trying to win a championship.

Thad Young pleads Zach LaVine's All-Star case, offers advice to Lauri Markkanen

USA Today

Thad Young pleads Zach LaVine's All-Star case, offers advice to Lauri Markkanen

Before any assorted media had a chance to ask Thad Young a question following Tuesday morning shootaround, he had something to get off his chest.

"Before we start, I just want to say Zach LaVine should be an All-Star. It should be said and done already," Young began, unprompted. "That guy’s been putting on a show for the past couple months. Been doing his thing. He’s been incredible. So Zach LaVine for All-Star. I'm saying it here and now, lets make sure we get this done. Everybody go vote, go do what you gotta do."

Young isn't the first Bull to plead LaVine's case, and he certainly won't be the last. The question, though, is who he is pleading to. Fan voting for All-Star starters ended Jan. 20 at 11:59 p.m. ET, the night before Young's statement.

Perhaps it's a call to coaches. Though the last fan voting returns had LaVine as the sixth-ranked Eastern Conference backcourt player, there remains the possibility of him sneaking in as one of the seven reserves, which coaches vote on.

That pool will be crowded, but LaVine has made a tremendous case for himself with his recent play. This month, LaVine is averaging 30 points (t-6th in the NBA), 5.1 rebounds and 4 assists per game on 49 percent shooting from the field (35.9 percent from 3). He's played 36.8 minutes per night in 11 January games.

"He’s done more than enough, he’s more than capable. He’s shown it time and time again, and he’s been great for us all season long," Young said. "He don’t have to pay me anything [to say this], that was my rook in Minnesota. He’s a great teammate, he’s one of the best ever, he wants to get better each and every day."

But no Young media availability would be complete without imparting a bit of veteran wisdom. When asked what Lauri Markkanen — who's season-long struggles are well-documented — can learn from LaVine's ascension, Young was candid.

"I think the confidence level of Zach and what he’s done can be instilled in Lauri a little bit. Lauri starts to miss shots, sometimes he gets down on himself. Zach misses a shot, Zach’s like, ‘I’m going to shoot the next one. I’m going to be more aggressive. I’m going to try to get to the basket,’" Young said. "And then being able to mix up his game a little bit. Not just, ‘Hey, I’m just going to shoot the 3’ or ‘I’m just going to drive and take it to the basket’ [without] having an in-between game or being able to mix in some post ups here and there."

On Markkanen's ability to do that within the Bulls' system: "Our offense is structured and predicated on 3s and getting to the basket. But coaches are still encouraging him to mix everything up. The coaches are encouraging everybody to mix it up — try to give opposing teams something different, something that they haven’t seen."

Starters and captains for the 2020 All-Star game will be announced Jan. 23, with reserve announcements coming Jan. 30. If LaVine makes it, Bulls fans can look forward to the All-Star draft on Feb. 6.

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Thad Young on trade rumors: 'I’m a Chicago Bull. Whatever happens happens'

USA Today

Thad Young on trade rumors: 'I’m a Chicago Bull. Whatever happens happens'

Last July, when he controlled his free-agency decision, Thad Young chose to sign with the Bulls.

Come the Feb. 6 trade deadline, Young has no control.

“I’m just playing basketball. I’m a Chicago Bull. Whatever happens happens. I understand it’s a business,” Young told NBC Sports Chicago. “If I’m traded, I’m traded and have to go to the next city. If I’m not, then I’m here with my brothers, here with my teammates, and ready to fight.”

Still, given that the first season of his three-year deal hasn’t gone as planned, would Young want a change of address? The Bulls are one of the league’s biggest underachieving stories and Young’s playing time was so low that his camp last month conveyed to management his desire to play more.

“That’s not my focus,” he said. “My focus is on playing for the Bulls and helping us get some wins.”

Young is averaging 9.1 points and 4.5 rebounds in 22.4 minutes per game. While his playing time has increased in light of injuries to Wendell Carter Jr. and Daniel Gafford, he still is playing the second-fewest minutes of his 13-year career.

A league source previously confirmed to NBC Sports Chicago that the Clippers’ interest in Young is legitimate, which was first reported by the Los Angeles Times. A Clippers scout attended a recent Bulls game despite the fact the teams don’t meet again until April.

Even if nothing materializes there, Young is the type of plug-and-play veteran that fits on any team making a playoff run. Young has been traded three times in his career, so he knows both how disruptive it can be on a family but also how it sometimes can lead to a better fit.

Befitting his reputation as the consummate professional, Young is ignoring the rumors and focused on his current situation.

“We’re very upset we keep losing games, Young said. “It’s hard to win in this league. We have to understand that as a team. We have to face the hardness of the game and take advantage of the opportunities we do have. We need to play harder than other teams. We can play great for 38-40 minutes. But there’s an 8-minute span that can be detrimental to our team.”

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