When I watch Luol Deng play I always think about how old he is. He seems to play like an aged veteran despite the fact that he has only played for eight years. But in those eight years Deng has experienced his fair share of injuries which obviously hit its pinnacle with the torn ligaments in his wrist he suffered last season. But his wrist has bothered him since he arrived in the league in 2004 as a rookie. So knowing what we know about Deng, the question of how many minutes he is playing per game has to be asked.
Deng leads the league in minutes per game with 40.3 with teammate Joakim Noah placing third with 39.2 minutes. The problem with these numbers is simple: these are the two players that the Chicago Bulls cannot replace easily. With the way their roster is set up, there are solid back-ups and reserves for the guards and forwards. But when it comes to Deng and Noah there is no viable replacement. This simple problem leads to heavy minutes every game for these two all-star caliber talents.
What Deng brings to this team cannot always be measured. He is usually the one to lock down superstars such as Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, and he is expected to bring his defensive intensity every night. In addition to his defensive requirements, he also is averaging almost 18 points per game. Therefore, he is expected to anchor the defense by covering the opponents’ best players and then is expected to score in double digits every night. This seems like a requirement that every NBA player should abide by, but the difference is that Deng doesn’t get to rest. His minutes are more demanding than his on-court responsibilities and while it may not show now it will catch up to him. Is anyone surprised that he didn’t miss time when he sprained his ankle? Because I’m not. Or how about last season when he refused to get surgery on his wrist? Nope, still not surprised. Simply put, he can’t miss games. If he did, his absence would be the Bulls’ downfall.
The minutes he is playing and the load he is carrying on his shoulders brings me back to the point I have been rallying for for months and that is that the team needs to acquire another player. Preferably this player would be able to serve as a solid back-up to Deng and could provide some of the same things that Deng does every night. It’s not that I don’t trust Jimmy Butler, it’s just that he doesn’t do the same things as Deng does and according to the statistics, he isn’t getting the chance to play Deng’s role anyways.
I like Butler and I love Deng, but there are a few names in free agency that could provide depth off of the bench and there are even more names who could be acquired through some trades. Until a new name is added to the roster, the Bulls need to be careful in regards to how heavy they’re using Deng because one night they might end up regretting it.