Luol Deng: You Can't Outplay LeBron James Every Night
Luol Deng has shown a lot of ability this year in the NBA Playoffs. He outplayed Josh Smith in 4 of the 6 games in the second round series, and he matched Danny Granger of the Pacers in round one. So far in the playoffs, Deng is averaging 16.7 points per game in this year’s Playoffs and he has scored 20 or more in 5 of the 13 games (he had one outlier of 7 points which brought his average down a bit).
Deng’s length, quickness, and shooting ability is enough to give any small forward headaches. In Game 2, Deng held LeBron James to 15 points on 5 of 15 shooting, while scoring 21 for his victorious Bulls. He also snagged 7 rebounds, which is always nice from the “small” forward. Deng could undoubtedly play power forward on some teams but the Bulls have two competent power forwards in Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson.
For a player that drew heavy criticism for a large contract, he has shown this year that he very well might have been worth every dollar. Although James scored 29 on 12 of 21 shooting, he won’t be hitting those outside shots every night. He attempted 6 three point shots, well above his season average of 3.5 attempts per game. Though he has a strength advantage on Deng, Deng’s length is enough to frustrate LeBron and force him into bad shots.
Even if LeBron does get by Deng, he often encounters either Joakim Noah or Taj Gibson (when he’s in) between himself and the rim. While LeBron certainly has the propensity and aptitude to dunk over anyone not named Dwight Howard in the NBA, Noah and Gibson have adequate length to change some mid range shots.
It’s not fair to expect Luol Deng to outplay LeBron James for the majority of this series, but if he can go toe to toe or best him in at least 2 of the games, it will give the Bulls a great chance to win this series in which they were underdogs in according to Vegas Oddsmakers. It’s hard not to favor a team like the Heat, as they have three top tier weapons, just like the Celtics of 3 years ago, who also have three hall of famers of their own in Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett. The Heat made short work of the Celtics though, because unlike Boston who relies on “experience,” not to be confused with old age, the Heat rely on three players that are all in their respective primes and they are ready to win now.
It’s not really a positive speculation to wonder if the Heat could be a potential dynasty. Few fans want to see that happen. Most NBA fans detest true dynasties because they don’t give all the teams a chance to win a title. Some franchises still haven’t won a title, while a full two-thirds of the NBA championships have went to either the L.A. Lakers or the Boston Celtics. The Magic were lucky, in fact, to even get to the Finals 2 times in 15 years, though their record in Finals games is 1-8.
I digress…back to the topic at hand. For a player that was shopped as heavily as Deng was and with the Bulls angling to get LeBron James last summer, Deng has risen above all expectations and became the kind of player he was projected to be when he signed the deal.