Without Derrick Rose on the floor in the 2012-2013 NBA season, the Chicago Bulls were forced to rely more heavily on the rest of their roster. Joakim Noah was asked to do more offensively, as were guys like Carlos Boozer. However, no one was asked to do more than Luol Deng.
As has been the case over the past four seasons in Chicago, head coach Tom Thibodeau played Deng an absurd amount of minutes, averaging 38.7 per game in the 75 games that he played. Moreover, he was relied upon to be their defensive leader as well as being relied upon more offensively as he saw his usage percentage rise to 20.3 percent, the highest since the 2007-2008 season.
With Deng being relied upon so heavily last season without Rose on the floor, he saw a decline in his overall efficiency and play. He averaged a solid 16.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last season, but saw his three-point percentage dip to just 32.2 percent, the lowest since the 2006-2007 season, and his true shooting percentage fall to a meager 50.8 percent.
However, the Bulls should expect Deng to rebound in the 2013-2014 season. Obviously the return of Rose is going to help Deng settle into a more natural role for him. Without Rose last season with Deng having to take on the more of the onus on offense, he averaged only 0.89 points per possession, ranking only 245th in the league. That also forced his defense to suffer as he wasn’t able to save himself for that end of the floor as much. Deng allowed 0.85 points per possession defensively last season, just the 149th best rate in the league.
In Rose’s MVP 2010-2011 season, though, Deng was much more effective. He averaged 0.97 points per possession offensively, the 130th best rate in the league. Able to focus more on his defense, Deng allowed just 0.81 points per possession that season, the 58th best rate in the league. Having Rose back at full strength will allow Deng to focus more on his strengths and not exert energy in ways he’s not necessarily accustomed to.
It’s more than just Rose returning that will help Deng be more successful, though. The emergence of Jimmy Butler last season seems to spell him playing a much bigger role for Chicago in the upcoming season, meaning that Deng will once again have less pressure placed upon him.
Another factor in Deng’s decline last season may have been the workload that’s been placed upon him over the past few seasons. His low in minutes per game over the past few seasons was 37.9 per game, which is still an absurd amount of time on the floor. However, with the arrival of Mike Dunleavy and rookie Tony Snell, Deng may see more rest this season, which could help him stay more fresh throughout the entire season.
With Deng in the last year of his contract, the Bulls will be looking for him to prove himself worthy of an extension. Though he has shown a decline over the past two seasons, Deng seems like he’s in a much better situation heading into this season. If he doesn’t succeed this season, it certainly won’t be because he doesn’t have the opportunity to.