Tuesday, September 24th, 2013 at 12:00 pm  |  82 responses

Top 50: Luol Deng, no. 49

Deng may be entering his final season as the ‘glue’ for the Bulls.

by Ben Taylor / @benitaylor

Luol Deng wasn’t part of the SLAMonline Top 50 last year.

Be honest: You didn’t notice, did you?

The thing is, in a League of individual stars, where most of the athletes you’ll find on this list are bigger names than the teams they play on, it can be hard to show love to a dude like Deng.

He’s a team guy. He’s the glue. The player’s player.

Getting on with business, doing whatever it takes to make his team better—even if it means playing injured when his superstar teammate is out and running himself into the ground for his team, literally, in the case of the life-threatening illness that ended his season in the middle of the Bulls’ playoff run.

That stuff doesn’t make the headlines, particularly in a season with so many incredible highlights, but for those who weren’t following, here’s a few Deng did make last year:

For the second straight season he played more minutes per game (38.7) than anyone else in the League—most of them spent making life miserable for the best player on the other team. The sheer volume of minutes he played meant that he not only was expected to play a crucial role at both ends of the floor when the game was on the line, but that he also carried the team when his fellow starters took a break.

He made a second consecutive All-Star appearance—selected by the coaches who have to work around his tireless defensive efforts.

Deng also finished in the top 10 in his position in scoring, rebounding and assists—and the competition at small forward isn’t exactly light.

Last year ended on a sour note, the toil of a long season and illness limiting his impact come the Playoffs, but there are signs that ’13-14 will be a good one for Deng.

For starters, he’s healthy and rested for the first time in years. After spending the last few years going from the NBA straight to international competition with Great Britain, Deng took the summer off—getting himself back in shape after another long season and the aforementioned illness. Deng’s biggest fan, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, has already said he plans to manage the small forward’s workload next year, but if he can hit 38-plus minutes and 16 points per game without rest, who knows what he could do rested.

Joining a fit and healthy Deng on the floor for the Bulls will be a (hopefully) fit and healthy Derrick Rose. Rose’s mere presence on the court, assuming he is even a fraction of the player he was before he got hurt, frees Deng to play his natural role—Lieutenant Deng, defensive leader and reliable second scorer.

The attention on the returning Rose will give the man from Sudan better looks in his favored areas—notably his solid mid-range game, and his knack for slashing and getting open—and take the pressure off Deng in the areas where he isn’t as strong.

And let’s not forget the million dollar elephant in the room—Deng is 28, and is now in the final year of his $80 million contract with Chicago. The deal he signs next summer will likely be the last big payday of his career, and whether it ends up being the Bulls or someone else who picks him up, Lu will be out there working to earn another big deal.

Other guys are going to be hogging the headlines again this year—even on his own team—but Luol Deng is going to be one of the most effective defensive players in the League again, taking on the unenviable task of stopping whichever superstar his team faces, and he’s going to get 16-18 points and 7 or 8 rebounds doing it.

That’s the kind of guy I’d want on my team, and someone who (at the least) deserves their spot in the Top 50.

Where should Luol Deng rank in the SLAM Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2013
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Monta Ellis Mavs SG 5
49 Luol Deng Bulls SF 10

Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’13-14—to players’ team, the League and the game.

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  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Really good Ben! And great spot for Deng SLAM

  • danpowers

    49? hell no! too low, but at least he is in.

  • Dundler

    Great write up, hits it on the head. I made a lot of the same points on the Ellis thread yesterday. You HAVE to have this type of guy on a championship team.
    I’d have him higher but least he’s on here

  • Dundler

    Although must say this being his highest ever ranking is a joke

  • shockexchange

    Deng and the Bulls showed the Shock Exchange something last season. SE thought they were going to fold after D. Rose went down. But they stood tall for the Chi and balled outta control. With D. Rose back and a surrounding cast that can stand on its own, the Bulls could contend in the East.

  • http://SLAMonline.com/ Ryne Nelson

    *Votes Better than No. 49*

  • danpowers

    they will contend. succeeding in doing so against the heat is another story

  • danpowers

    no, that is not a great spot. its bearable, but not great :p

  • danpowers


  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    I had him at 51……and you didn’t even notice he wasn’t there…..

  • 3Chainz

    “Didn’t notice”?!! But he’s one of the top 5 ballers/rappers of all time, think about it
    5) Deng 4) Deng 3) Deng 2) Deng and…
    1) DENG!!

  • spit hot fiyah

    i want to say higher due to his all around game and his defense, but i will hold of my judgement until spots 30-50 are finished

  • shockexchange

    Agreed. Armed with the “LeBron Rules,” The Kang and the Heat are darn near unbeatable. What has the Shock Exchange done?

    *Edit* This may sound crazy, but D. Rose going down may have been a blessing in disguise. His injury forced other guys to step up. If the Heat is #1 then a healthy D. Rose with a confident supporting cast has to 1A.

  • danpowers

    me not noticing a player at all isnt a measurement for anything – i even didnt realize they left out noah last year. i had deng in my own 50 this year as far as i remember.

    i agree with your low rank based on his performance during the last one or two seasons – if injuries dont count as excuses or explanations.

    ben taylor makes a great point: he was absolutely not rested the last years. he played hurt and his engagement for his national team doesnt compare to an nba players engagement for the us squad as deng carries a heavier load for great britain.

    the rankings aim to predict his production for next year right? he might be a 49 or 50 or 51 when banged up and not rested. in other words: that would be an appropriate grade for last seasons performance.

    he will be fine coming in and finds himself next to rose again. shouldnt that indicate a jump in production and efficiency?

  • danpowers

    i applaud nevertheless

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Uhm, I don’t think adding one of the heaviest use players in the league will do anything positive for his production. And now that Jimmy Butler is emerging, and they did sign Mike Dinleavy jr I doubt his reign as leader in MPG continues. Oh, and Deng is on the trade block. Oh, and he complained yesterday about Chicago’s medical staff. There are way more question marks about Deng’s upcoming season than guarantees. Any ranking of Deng from 40-50 seem appropriate to me. Anything higher than that and I think you are passing up better players just to give him credit for playing so many minutes.

  • danpowers

    to me these questionmarks dont indicate regression:

    a cut in minutes should decrease the risk for him to get hurt again. even with 33mpg o so this guy will have a nice output on both ends of the floor.

    jimmy butler cant do on offense what deng does. everybody knows that rose needs all help on offense he can get.

    rose has a high usage rate, but deng isnt that good at creating his own shot anyway. especially when teams defenses stretch out to respect dunleaveys shot or collapse on roses drives with deng on the floor means more space for deng to cut to the hoop and also more catches for spot up shots. rose is better at running an offense than the trio of hinrich, teague and robinson. this should help dengs efficiency on offense more than it hurts.

    he is on the trade block because the bulls dont want to extend his contract to be able to get a big name on board to help rose – somebody who would be able to create his own offense. unless that doesnt actually happen (signing a good scorer) it doesnt seem very probable that butler will take over dengs role in the bulls rotation.

  • Max

    I wonder about how many names we will be able to say: Deng should definitely be in front of that guy.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Never said it would hurt his efficiency. Just his efficiency either way isn’t what makes Deng so good. It’s his ability to play elite defense without hurting the offense for more minutes than anyone else in the league. He’s a very good player, but he is dependent on others on offense, and his chief attribute is his ability to play a ton of minutes. It’s not like he’s a guy you want as the second best player on your team if you actually plan on winning anything. Ranking him any higher would indicate him as one of the best secondary stars in the league. Which he certainly isn’t.

  • LLC#12

    The all-star game is for the top 24 players (in theory, rarely in practice) in the league, Deng’s been an All-Star the last 2 years, and 49th is his highest ranking ever! Wow. I’d have him around 35ish I think.

  • danpowers

    its not that all of the 30 nba teams have a secondary star player on the team who would be a lock for the top 50. could be that my memory is letting me down but i dont see 40 to 45 players who are actually better. he relies on others on offense, no doubt. but as you stated – not too many guys give you on offense what he does and at the same time serve as the glue guy with that defensive quality. imo that package out-values quite some good scorers who are bad on defense.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    The all star game, specifically the reserves are a collection of the best players fr the best teams. Not just the best players in the leAgue.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Just wait and see. There won’t be more than 10 guys who you can make a convincing argument about as worse than Deng

  • danpowers


  • Armando

    You bet I noticed last year. Way to low this year as well.

  • Dundler

    Good 3rd string guy though. Or in specific situations, like the Bulls where its never been all that clear who is 2nd option

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Yeah, I’m not trying to bash him. It’s obviously not a huge difference between him and other 2nd option type guys. I just wouldn’t put him in the top 10 of those guys. Even if there is an ideal situation that he can thrive in.

  • Armando

    What defines a good player? It’s tough to say… But when the coaches pick, they pick the players they feel contribute the most to winning, which really is the only thing that matters in basketball, right? …so couldn’t that definition defend those players as “the best”? …why is Deng playing so many minutes and such an integral role for a championship contender? I tried to make a top 50 and I’m having a hard time justifying putting Deng lower than 30.

  • Armando

    Are you using his MPG against him? ;)

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Want to hear how intellectually broken the all star = best players argument is. .
    Put Luol Deng in Charlotte. Now try and make the all star argument, he’d never be one in Charlotte. He sure wouldn’t change their chances at being competitive. Try and justify him as a top 30 player if he were on a team like that….that should be the first thought experiment with guys like Deng.

  • Kim Hargreaves

    Deng is a top 35 player easy. Saw so much more of his offensive game as the No1 guy on Team GB last year, can create his own shot with ease but doesn’t need to in the Bulls system.
    Hope he stays in Chicago but would also love to see him get more credit in another city, like say, Phoenix who originally drafted him.

  • Stepfan Raiford

    He plays both ends of the floor, checks the best offensive player on the opposing team, one of the league leaders in minutes and still has enough energy/strength to give you 16 points and 6 rebounds. And its a shame the Bulls organization are going to let him go in favor of Jimmy Butler (whom I like as a player). I think he should be ranked higher.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    No. I’m just not letting MPG outweigh output.

  • shockexchange

    So basically, Deng is Horry III. *Welp*

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Dumbass opinions are always welcome. Thanks

  • Stepfan Raiford

    But didn’t Gerald Wallace “carry” (I use that word loosely) the bobcats to their first and only playoff appearance, or was that the blessing of a terrible Eastern Conference? Either way if Luol left I think he would at least improve (slightly) at being competitive.

  • Stepfan Raiford

    Definitely Monta lol

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Gerald Wallace, Stephen Jackson, Ray Felton, and Tyson Chandler……is much better than just Gerald Wallace.

  • Stepfan Raiford

    To their current roster with Luol. Touche I agree.

  • TR

    Luol Deng is the definition of “flys under the radar.” Been a top SF for years now.

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  • Slick Ric

    Should be a little higher

  • Dfrance

    Kinda hard to believe 3 out of the last 5 years he hasn’t been ranked in Slams top 50. I guess it’s the injuries, cuz when he’s healthy, there are not 50 better players than Deng.

  • LeroyShonuff

    min 25 names…

  • LeroyShonuff

    Ummmm… I noticed last year. Slam is trolling us all. Let me guess, John Wall few good months makes him top 20? Top 15? Oh and is Andrew Wiggins top 10 since majority of the league is tanking to get him? Deng is top 30 and has been that way for the past 3-4yrs.

  • Dundler

    Hmm I dunno…I think it depends on what the opinion of 2nd or 3rd options are, but I get where you’re coming from. Although I do think he’s better than 10th best SF

  • Dundler

    I don’t think anyone who saw the GB games would summise he can create his own shot ‘with ease’. I’ll adore him forever for how much he put into that program though, dragged a team along more than anyone in Olympic basketball memory

  • http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjIeIA3G2s5UPQfRPYFyFDw Hart26

    He’s only the 10th best SF in the NBA, Slam? Come on now…..

  • Armando

    I hear you. But I try to avoid judging players based on subjective opinions about thought experiments – I might agree with you on the “put Deng in Charlotte” argument, but we simply don’t know. All I have to go after is what he has done and probably will continue to do in Chicago, so I’ll stick with that. (Now, if we are going to use the thought experiment, let’s do it with the next 20 players as well).

  • Armando

    Define output? I mean can all contributions be measured accurately (I’m no Hollinger desciple btw, more of a supporter of “the only number that counts is the one in the W column”).

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    It’s not a simple definition. I just say “output” because there is no correct word.

    i measure these guys based on a ton of criteria. — First I look at how much whichever given player affects his teams chances at winning. – How valuable his role in winning for his team is. — How much he produces (stats wise) — How efficient he is — How much the team suffers without him. — And then, if all those things seem even, I go by personal preference, in other words, whichever player i see as having a superior natural impact on games.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    (Josh Smith maybe) – (Kawhi Leonard possibly) – (Nicolas Batum?) – (Rudy Gay?)
    That’s my guess

  • Harlem_World

    James – Yes
    Durant – Of course
    Anthony – No Doubt
    George – Agree
    Iduodala – Debatable and Deng’s numbers are on par with Iggy. Looking past the numbers, Deng is a better glue guy than Iggy.

    Josh Smith – Hell no

    Kawhi Leonard – No way

    Batum – (stephen A “So Disrespectful”

    Rudy Gay – Better on offense, Deng better on D – pick your poison

    I got Deng as top 5 on this list

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Iguodala – Rudy Gay are all your opinion.
    Iguodala is a better defender, and does more within the offensive system, just doesn’t do the scoring thing as well.
    Josh Smith is better than Deng. But he’s more PF than SF. There really is no way to justify saying Deng is better.
    Batum, why not? look at what they do. it’s pretty close. (i’d take Deng, but it’s definitely arguable).
    Rudy Gay is not better historically. But he was better after he got traded to Toronto. Whether people want to accept that or not.

  • Harlem_World

    It’s all subjective. My opinion, your opinion, nobody is definitively right about the subjective levels of who is actually better when the support evidence is relatively even.

    Gay is a better offensive player in the sense he can better create his own shot – but not necessarily as part of a system. Deng’s off ball movement is among the best in the league and his spacing is superior too.

    Iguodala is the better athlete, but he’s not better offensively and Deng plays that 3rd player role better. in my opinion, of course. Neither Deng or Iggy are going to be championship level second options. However they are both upper echelon as 3rd option guys.

    Batum doesn’t have enough under his belt yet. He has potential, but as yet still unproven to compete with Deng’s resume.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    i agree about Gay. My only point is/was, in Toronto, where he is the #1 option, he doesn’t have to do the little things that Deng is so great at, he just has to be better at the things he is doing. If he has a season of 20PPG 7RPG and 2.5APG on 45+% I don’t see anyway to justify Deng as being better. Deng won’t have the opportunity to be better than that. — Not that i think Gay will actually do that, but that’s a justifiable reason to predict a better season out of Rudy.

    this isn’t about resumè’s. it’s just about next season.
    Iguodala has essentially been his teams backup point guard his whole career. Deng is literally only better at shooting. Everything else is in Iguodala’s favor. If you want to say Deng is better, that’s your opinion. I can confidently tell you though, it’s not the popular one within the NBA community.

  • LakeShow

    It’s a make it or break it year for Deng.

    Gotta get his fg% up and play elite defense nightly again.

  • Harlem_World

    lol you can ‘confidently tell’ me though? Thanks for that.

    I can ‘confidently tell you’ that within NBA circles there are a number of teams who would take Deng over Iggy right now.

    As I said, with those two guys, it’s far more subjective than objective.

    For the record, I like iggy and would probably take him on my team over Deng, but that is more preference in style of player over overall value and impact in building a contender. Neither guy is going to lead your team to the promised land, but both could be key components of a winner if used the right way.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    do you talk to people in NBA circles? or are you just saying that as a defense mechanism to what i told you?

  • Harlem_World

    The former actually.

    I’ve no need or desire to be defensive sir, nobody is always right on everything, if I’m wrong, I have no problem with that. But I need to be proven wrong though, which is pretty hard to do when dealing with subjective opinion.

    Anywho…back to game…

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    i was just asking, as a lot of people around here get very defensive. in my experience with the NBA community, Iguodala is valued quite a bit higher than Deng. His versatility (in my experience) outweigh’s Deng’s consistency.

  • Irfan

    Should be waaaaay higher. 77% in favor of the same idea, that’s a given.

  • Harlem_World

    Agreed on both points. I had a pretty lengthy ‘debate’ with a NBA scout friend of mine about both of them. Though its his profession, I can wage a good one when I get ready lol.

    I also believe in some aspects, Deng is slightly over rated. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great guy and the ultimate submissive guy 2 alpha dogs need as a complimentary 3rd piece on a winning team. Doesn’t complain (much) but offensively sometimes he can be plan horrible to watch with the ball in his hands. Works well off the ball, got to give him that but I still feel, after all this time, that whenever he gets a kick out jumper you just don’t have confidence the guy will make a shot when it counts. He has done it and come up big at times for the Bulls – but I personally just don’t feel confident with him being relied upon to take big shots. As for him putting it on the floor, that just isn’t something you want to see too much of if you want to win. His weaknesses on offense will forever keep him as a fringe guy, despite his intangibles and defense.

    Iggy, is by far the superior athlete. By far. Defensively he is able to be more aggressive and I like that. Offensively, he may not be as cerebral as Deng, but he is more alpha male – and personally, I prefer that.

    There are points for being a good team mate and solid locker room presence, and I know Deng scores highly in those areas, so this is where I think my friend’s ‘NBA’ thinking comes from. I don’t underestimate those factors that will never show up on a box score – which ultimately make these two guys such a subjective choice.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    yeah, i admit i was a little bullish on how highly i was talking about Iguodala. I too just sort of feel like Deng gets more credit for “playing hard” then other guys do. And again, within the people i’ve spoken too who work in/around the league, the consensus about Iguodala is that he is severely underrated. Mostly as a result of his PPG decline over the years.
    But, I do agree, it’s subjective. I just am not very good at keeping the “it’s subjective” part within my dialogue

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