Wednesday, September 21st, 2011 at 12:28 pm  |  82 responses

Top 50: Luol Deng, no. 50

The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.

The SLAMonline Top 50, generally speaking, is a way for us to ramp up for the NBA season. If you haven’t been with us for a minute, our writers painstakingly come together to rank the NBA’s best players based on their expected contributions for this upcoming season. Of course, we could be counting down to a lackluster lockout this year. But lockout or not, the criteria for the Top 50 is still the same. We’ve followed the same guidelines for the past three years, so this season, we can afford to get a little retrospective—you’ll find a slick bar chart for each player depicting his rank over the years. Be sure to check back seven days a week for the latest in the Top 50. So, without any further ado, we present the 2011 SLAMonline Top 50 Players.—Ed.

by Bryan Crawford / @_BryanCrawford

I was never a Luol Deng fan. Like ne-ver.

It was nothing personal, though. I think more than anything else my initial dislike of Deng stemmed from a long-standing hatred of players from Duke and the Chicago Bulls‘ apparent obsession with drafting Blue Devils (see: Elton Brand, Jay Williams and Chris Duhon). Personal bias aside, in the beginning, I didn’t see Luol Deng as anything special and certainly not the long-term answer that you usually expect from a Lottery selection.

After Deng’s first few seasons in Chicago, I’d begun clamoring for him to be traded like most Bulls fans were, even in spite of his best statistical season as a pro in ’06-07 in which he averaged 18 points and almost 7 rebounds per game. For a third year player, those numbers were more than solid and the hope was the Bulls would try and cash in on his value—which couldn’t seem to get any higher—and find a better player at the wing. The combination of Deng, Andres Nocioni and Thabo Sefolosha didn’t exactly inspire confidence in the program, you know?

Besides, it was a well known fact that both Lu and teammate Ben Gordon (drafted three spots ahead of Deng in ‘04) had contracts that were due up at the same time. Considering all that BG had done in a Bulls uni (look it up if you don’t remember because it’s ridiculous), most felt he deserved to be paid over Luol, thereby making Deng expendable and the Bulls’ most valuable trade asset.

But when management decided to give Deng $71 million in the summer of ’09 ($80 million adding in incentives) and only extended a one-year qualifying offer to BG in what was already a contentious negotiating process, the organization let it be known who they were rolling with and effectively made Gordon—their best player and scorer—an unrestricted FA at the end of the season.

All told, the logic the Bulls used in the decision to re-sign Deng made perfect sense (6-8, solid defender, great teammate) and realistically, there was no way the team could’ve kept both him and Gordon. But you just don’t let a dynamic scorer like that walk away for nothing just so you can pay superstar money to a guy who was at best, mediocre at his position. The Chicago Bulls had grossly overpaid Deng and everyone knew it.

And what did Luol do after the ink was dry on his new contract? Oh, he just went out and got himself hurt… again. You see, Deng had been injury prone since he came into the NBA and that fact alone made his re-signing all the more curious.

As a rookie in ’04-05, Deng missed 21 games with a broken wrist. In ’07-08 he missed a slew of games due to problems with his Achilles. In ’08-09, after inking that huge deal, he missed 33 games after sustaining a stress-fracture in his leg. And the following season, ’09-10, he got hurt again but by this time, the Bulls were stuck with him. His new contract made him virtually untradeable.

Despite Chicago’s good fortune of securing the No. 1 pick in ’09 which then brought with it the right to draft Derrick Rose, and despite Pooh’s obvious brilliance on the court as a rookie, Playoff appearances notwithstanding, the future in Chicago still didn’t seem all that bright as long as Luol Deng was in the fold.

But that all changed when Vinny Del Negro was fired and Tom Thibodeau was brought in to be the head coach. Lu’s game reached a whole new level.

Statistically he was pretty much the same player, but Thibodeau’s system played to Deng’s strength as a slasher and the coach put him in all sorts of positions to score the ball, making him a legitimate offensive threat and opening things up for other players. Whether it was Lu cutting and getting to the basket for the finish, or coming off screens and hitting the mid-range pull-up, or knocking down three-pointers, especially from the corners, in Thibs’s offense, Deng’s game flourished.

But it was on defense where Luol really left his mark.

Always known as a solid defender, after being coached up by Thiobdeau, Luol Deng virtually became a stopper on D. He would draw the opponent’s best perimeter player every single night and did more than a serviceable job on them in the process. His consistent play on both sides of the ball was enough to cause some people to say that he, and not Derrick Rose, was the team’s “real” MVP because Thibs couldn’t afford to even take him out of games on some nights.

Considering he played 82 games for just the second time in his career, Deng’s value was obvious and even with DRose’s stellar season, there’s no telling how good the Chicago Bulls would have been or how far they would have gotten without the play of Luol Deng who, from a scoring perspective, finished Top 5 at his position (in the Eastern Conference) behind LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Danny Granger and Paul Pierce.

That’s excellent company right there.

This is Deng’s first time making SLAMonline’s Top 50 and who knows, he may never make it again. But given his play last season and his contributions he’s expected to make this season (if there is one), Lu is definitely deserving of his place on the list. Besides, he’s not only won over Bulls fans after seven years, but he’s won over this writer as well.

Looking back at the 2004 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls trading the 31st pick (which ended up being Anderson Varejao) for Deng at No. 7 and getting $3 million in cash from the Phoenix Suns, there’s no question as to who got the better end of that deal. And most Bulls fans, now, wouldn’t go back and change it for anything in the world.

SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2011
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Luol Deng Bulls SF 8

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’11-12 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Maurice Bobb, Shannon Booher, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Jon Jaques, Eldon Khorshidi, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Quinn Peterson, Dave Schnur, Abe Schwadron, Dan Shapiro, Irv Soonachan, Todd Spehr, Tzvi Twersky, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Ben York.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.

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  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    Top 50. Yea Buddy.

  • http://Slamonline.com Caboose

    Top 10:
    1. LeBron
    2. Rose
    3. Wade
    4. Howard
    5. Durant
    6. Kobe
    7. Paul
    8. Dirk
    9. Melo
    10. Deron

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Glad to have Top 50 back. I’ve loved Luol as a player since he was in high school and enjoyed seeing him really find a place in the NBA this past season. I know Derrick values him IMMENSELY.

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    Oh and awesome write up BC, way to start this thing off.

  • http://slamonline.com Bryan Crawford

    @nbk: Thank you, sir!

  • http://Slamonline.com Caboose

    ^Agree. Always a fan of Mr. Crawford’s work.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Eboy

    This almost makes me feel like there’s going to be a season. Almost.

  • http://www.slamonline.com/online/blogs/adventures-of-the-catford-saints/ Ben Taylor

    Bryan you have impeccable taste.

  • http://slamonline.com Bryan Crawford

    @Ben Taylor: *salute*

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    Y’all have any idea who almost made the cut? Or do you not wanna reveal that till we get down to the top 30?

  • Double J

    You don’t know how excited I was to see this… only 49 days till the NBA season starts! Oh wait…

  • gunnygunt18


  • http://slamonline.com Bryan Crawford

    @Caboose: I didn’t forget about you, bro. *salute*


    I have to see who else made the list. So far I may be okay with Deng here. Although he dissapears when it gets tough I guess he is a top 50 player.

  • KH10

    Hard to believe this is Luols first time on this list, a solid player who is also stellar for team GB in international play.

  • ctkennedy

    This is too low …he should be higher on the list

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    David West better not be on this list. (I had to do it)

  • http://hoopism.com airs

    oh snap! i didnt know y’all were doing this now.
    i dunno, ive kinda always liked Lu on the team.
    maybe-okay, definitely- a little over paid, but he is the glue on the team and was a leader early on in his career.
    and i thought elton brand was a beast on the bulls.
    but anyways, im happy top 50 is back. can finally spark some heated, ridiculous debates again.

  • Cru_thik305

    Am i the only one that durant isnt on that list of top 5 small forwards?

  • http://Slamonline.com nbk

    Oh fug I didnt even notice. You forgot the leading scorer in the league BC

  • http://slamonline.com Bryan Crawford

    @nbk: Should’ve been Top 5 at his position in the Eastern Conference. My bad…

  • http://www.slamonline.com Wayno

    Top notch role player. Does a little bit of everything.

  • http://www.slamonline.com nbk

    no sweat, that was my next question, cuz Rudy Gay & Michael Beasley also scored more PPG then Deng.

  • http://slamonline.com SpaceJam

    Lu has game. Getting some handles so he could create his own shot effectively would take his game to another level though. This is a good slot for him. From one Chicagoan to another, great write up

  • http://redoftoothandclaw.ca/ niQ

    Nice write up. I’m also surprised that it’s his first time on SLAM’s top 50. But the way he played last season really put his name out there!

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    Great way to kick off the Top 50. Deng’s value to the bulls can not be understated, he’s undoubtedly their second best player, their best perimeter defender (along with Brewer), their best mid-range shooter and one of the most versatile/two-way players in the L.
    I better not see Booooooooooooooooooozer on the list now that Deng’s on it.

  • http://hoopism.com airs

    ha! boozer’s gonna be on it for sure, but 49 is as high as i’ll go.
    lu shouldve been ranked higher than booz in 2k as well.

  • http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/deeply-embarrassed-white-people-talk-awkwardly-about-race/Content?oid=9747101 Allenp

    But would you rather have him or Kobe?

  • http://www.slamonline.com nbk

    Kobe. Would you rather have him & Rose, or Kobe?

  • http://slamonline.com Bryan Crawford

    I’d still take Kobe. Even now.

  • http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/deeply-embarrassed-white-people-talk-awkwardly-about-race/Content?oid=9747101 Allenp

    Oh, and my name now links to a very long article about Lakeshow’s hometown of Seattle. Interesting read.

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    Kobe, without a doubt. Deng is a very good player but dude ain’t no kobe.

  • http://www.slamonline.com nbk

    If you took Kobe over Deng (when you had the chance) you (more then likely) wouldn’t have Derrick Rose. So the question really is, Deng & Rose – Or Kobe?

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    Deng&Rose. Those two guys led a less talented team than the one Kobe has in LA to the L’s top record and the ECF.

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    I was a big Deng fan when he was in high school, so I was really happy the Bulls got him, Dukie or not.
    I preferred him over BG from the get cause I value defense over offense and I’m not a fan of undersized twos.
    But yeah, after he signed his contract and kept getting injured I too was thinking they overpaid dude.
    Still think he makes too much, but then again he does SO much, especially in Thibs’ system.
    Dude played more minutes than Derrick Rose, and that’s saying something cause Rose is obviously their best player, but Thibs just hated taking Deng out of the game.
    And I’d rather have Rose and Deng over Kobe.
    But still wonder what they f*ck they were thinking not trading Deng for Kobe.

  • http://slamonline.com Bryan Crawford

    That’s the thing. When that deal was discussed, Kobe wouldn’t sign off on it unless Luol remained in Chicago. But at the time, I would’ve been OK if the Bulls had to gut the roster to get Kobe.
    But things seem to have worked out pretty well for both parties since then.

  • http://www.slamonline.com nbk

    Well it was Deng, Gordon, Hinrich, and a Lottery Pick.

  • http://www.slamonline.com nbk

    And the Bulls wanted it to be Gordon Hinrich Nocioni and a Lottery Pick. There was also word they wanted to include Washington in a 3-way trade that would have sent Gilbert Arenas to LA while keeping Deng in Chicago.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Slick Ric

    OK, nice start, couldnt wait for the top 50. Very anxious to see all the haters come out.

  • blakos

    Quality write-up Bryan. Deng is a solid player. Sort of guy you want on your roster

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    So the Bulls should have three more players on the list, right?
    Noah and Rose gotta be on here, and perhaps Boozer too.
    That’s dope. Probably only the Celtics (might) also have 4 players on this list.
    But only the Heat will have 3 in the top 20.
    Or maybe Bosh won’t make the top 20?
    Who knows?! Damn, that’s why I love the top 50!

  • http://www.slamonline.com nbk

    LA should have 3 or even 4 players in the top 50. Bryant, Gasol, Odom, Bynum. Barring injury lol

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    I don’t see Odom as being top 50 in the NBA, and I’m an Odom fan.
    But that’s just my opinion, I guess we’ll see.

  • http://www.slamonline.com nbk

    He was last season, and he just had the best season of his career. By far

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    Enigmatic, you got Booz making it in the Top-50? That must mean you believe he’s a better player than Deng, am I right?

  • http://slamonline.com The Philosopher

    Bryan Crawford delivering the GOODS.
    Have to express once again what everyone on these threads already know:
    SLAM is The Greatest of All Times.
    Even when I cannot get up here, for whatever reason, I’m still thinking about SLAM.
    You guys are really the sh1t.
    And, Doobie Okon is an all time name…

  • http://nba.com GP23

    What !!!! Luol Deng just finished this Eurobasket as the leader of the points per game average. He was the Bulls second most important player this season. He guarded LeBrons butt throughout the playoffs with ease. He is awesome on D, and a great spot up shooter. He should be higher, in the top 25 at least.

  • http://Slamonline.com Caboose

    It’ll be interesting to see where some of the veterans fall on this list. How far will Garnett and Manu slip? Will Kidd still be on the list? Will Ray? Will Duncan? There’s so many young cats (Kyle Lowry, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Demarcus Cousins, Eric Gordon, etc) who should all make this list who weren’t on it last year.

  • http://www.slamonline.com nbk

    ” He guarded LeBrons butt throughout the playoffs with ease. ” Has to be the best thing I’ve read all day.

  • http://Slamonline.com Caboose


  • http://slamonline.com The Philosopher


  • http://nba.com GP23

    Just realised how i put that…. Lmao

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    I’m sure you meant “he got torched by LeBron so this spot makes perfect sense”

  • Ivan

    This is my top 15 CURRENTLY. This was well thought.

    1. Dirk Nowitzki
    2. LeBron James
    3. Dwight Howard
    4. Dwyane Wade
    5. Kevin Durant
    6. Derrick Rose
    7. Chris Paul
    8. Kobe Bryant
    9. Deron Williams
    10. Russell Westbrook
    11. Pau Gasol
    12. Amare Stoudamire
    13. Carmelo Anthony
    14. Zach Randolph
    15. LaMarcus Aldridge.

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    JTaylor – Boozer is better when healthy and actually plays up to his best.
    That being said…Deng is better. But Boozer could still slip in ahead of Deng in these rankings.
    Y’all play the 2k12 demo yet? What y’all think?

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    Not yet. I’ve already pre-ordered mine, so I’m hoping there’s significant improvements (shot-blocking, on-ball D, tougher double teams, etc…).

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OhGZNLPSOY&feature=related Allenp

    They had more than one lottery pick at the time, right?
    Oh, and actually just listened to that Carter 4 album, and well… INTERLUDE

    Andre 3000> your favorite rapper

  • tomtom

    Nice to see Lu break the top 50, there is a story from when he was at a camp in London; he was late for camp on the first day and got a real earful from the coach. For the next two weeks 13 year old Luol was early every day, the exact distance from his home to the gym escapes my mind but is was something impressive like 5 miles and he had decided to run to the venue every day because he felt the bus was too unreliable, then took part in the 6 hr day of camp. Dude is just hard work personified. And a few years later he left his family to go to school in the US.

  • http://www.kb24.com The Seed

    Great write up, not top 50 in NBA, but great write up. BOOK IT!!

  • rob stewart

    I’m just an average looking dude but I used to date this model. I thought I had it made. But then one day she said”I’m going to Chicago to watch and meet some guy named Luol Deng” At that moment I should have known the relationship was over. I couldnt give her the things he could. Every time I see Luol Deng i think of that girl. Sad but true story.

  • bashmo

    1. Lebron
    2. DWade
    3. Kobe Bryant
    4. Dirk Nowitzki
    5. Dwight Howard
    6. Kevin Durant
    7. Chris Paul
    8. Deron Williams
    9. Derrick Rose
    10. Carmelo Anthony

  • DukeFromDeep


  • DukeFromDeep


  • Famo G

    Rose number 9 the mvp? really

  • slamfan4life

    Luv the 50! hate that Dengs last…..

    Rose better be top 5!

  • http://twitter.com/#!/MichaelJR_NZ Michael NZ

    Why the fu*k are people putting Carmelo Anthony in their top 10?

  • http://hoopistani.blogspot.com hoopistani

    1. Wade
    2. LeBron
    3. Rose
    4. Durant
    5. Nowitzki
    6. Dwight
    7. Kobe
    8. Melo
    9. Chris Paul
    10. Deron Williams

  • Sean

    This is a garbage article. Luol’s game hasn’t improved significantly over the last year or two. Hes always been a good player and he deserves the contract he has. The difference between this year and previous years is that the Bulls finally have a decent coach.

  • http://gmail.com Z

    @ allenp: sorry bud, but pharoah monche eats andre 3000 for breakfast, all day, every day. dre’s dope (especially considering he’s from the south, which usually produces mediocre lyricists), but monche is the greatest mc of all time. If you disagree, then you just haven’t been listening to the lyrics closely enough…

  • http://bedotwater.bandcamp.com BE.water

    @Z I cant say that Monch is a better lyricist than 3 Stacks. Monch is stupid nice… but something about the knowledge that 3000 kicks puts him ahead of monch to me.

    And I listen CLOSELY.

  • http://gmail.com Z

    FINALLY!!! someone else who listens to pharoah! BE.water, i need you to comment more often. Monch is un-be-lie-vable. it astonishes me that there’s so many intelligent hip hop heads on this site but that you’re the first one who i’ve ever heard respond to my many proclamations of pharoah’s supremacy. and it ain’t even close! pharoah’s lyrical content is just…sick.

  • Allenp

    I can’t speak on Pharaoh. Never really listened. But you saying Andre is just cool and anding that note about the South already makes me suspect your opinion is off.
    Dre is a lyrical and conceptual beast. Period.

  • http://twitter.com/#!/MichaelJR_NZ Michael NZ

    Andre 3000 > Pharoahe Monch… just.

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    Z – I’ve been listening to Pharoahe Monch since his Organized Konfustion days, so I’m a fan.
    But Andre 3000 > Pharoahe Monch

  • http://www.slamonline.com The Philosopher

    Pharoahe, my brethren.
    Andre is great, though.
    Really great.
    Borderline musical genius.

  • http://slamonline.com Tae

    Yall muthafu*kas putin Dwight, Dirk, CP3, and Rose over Kobe is crazy. Tha man aint dead yet. Dwight???? Really

  • http://slamonline.com LakeShow

    Tae, remain calm. Nothing a championship and ring #6 can’t do to shut up all the noise.

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    Well, they better win that chip soon, Lake, cause I have a feeling in about three years, unless they get Dwight, there’s no way they’ll be better than the Heat, Bulls and Thunder.

  • http://slamonline.com LakeShow

    I expect the next 3 ;)

  • teddygreen

    Clipper rookie Al Farouq Aminu is often compared to Luol Deng, and Clipper coach Vinny Del Negro is doing the same terrible coaching job on Al Farouq Aminu that he did with Luol Deng. VDN is not putting Aminu is better positions to succeed.

  • evil angel

    rose,i think could t be put forward top five he need more achievements and better personal data to prove him deserve his ranking

  • kris head

    Deng is solid but the big question in my mind is who is Deng more important to.. The bulls? or Team GB?