The Chicago Bulls’ leading scorer,Luol Deng, has missed the last three games after pulling his hamstring against the Boston Celtics last Friday. It has been a week, and Deng is still not confident in his timetable for a return. He has said that his chances for returning this Friday are not good.
Chicago fans can only hope he will be back in time Saturday or Sunday when they play the Washington Wizards. As unfortunate ad Deng’s injury is to the team now, it may point to a bigger problem for them going forward.
Deng leads the league in minutes per game, and while he has always been a player that the Bulls have relied on, this season is a little different. Some would say that it is Deng and teammate Joakim Noah who are keeping this franchise in the hunt in the Eastern Conference, and they wouldn’t be wrong. But now it’s time for Chicago to start paying attention to the minutes that its most important players are playing.
Deng’s injury is a minor one (we hope), his return should be soon and Chicago has seemingly dodged a bullet with the increased production that Jimmy Butler has provided in Deng’s absence. I’m not taking away from Butler at all because he is doing exactly what he needs to do to keep this team on track but what if this weren’t a minor injury?
What if this injury was more serious and required more time off? Would Butler be able to shoulder the load every night? I don’t think so. Butler has shown promising potential and all but solidified his future with Chicago in the last three games, but I don’t believe he could carry the team like Deng does at times for an extended period of time.
So with that said, it begs the question of whether or not Deng’s minutes per game should be reduced. Most people would say no, citing that his minutes are leading to his increased production which has led him to his second consecutive All-Star Game selection. I’m not denying that, but what I am saying is that Deng is crucial for Chicago’s success both now and when Derrick Rose returns. If Deng goes down for an extended period of time the Bulls may find themselves in a tougher spot that they are now.
It’s tough to say whether Deng will stay injury-free, and with Butler backing him up it may not worry some as much as others, but the conclusion is simple. Chicago can go deep into the playoffs and right now are one of the top five teams in the East. If they want to continue to compete they will need everyone healthy night in and night out. Butler is great off the bench, but I have more faith in Deng carrying this team than I do in Butler (at least for now).
Chicago has to tools to compete with the best teams in the East but it all revolves around staying healthy. That simple component will either make or break the Bulls this season.