After the first week of the NBA season, if you asked most Bulls fans which Chicago starting forward is most likely to go to the All Star Game in Orlando next month, Luol Deng would likely have been the choice by an overwhelming margin.
During the team’s opening four game California road trip, Deng shone. He scored 18.5 points per game, grabbed 7.8 boards, shot .491 and had the signature defensive play of the season so far, a block of a Kobe Bryant game winning shot attempt. Boozer, OTOH, had been the same inconsistent player that he was last season. He played reasonably well against the Lakers and Kings, and was a non factor in the loss to Golden State and the win over the Clippers. On the trip, he averaged 11.8 points and 7.5 boards per contest while shooting .500, paltry numbers for 15 million dollars he makes this season.
It has been a different story this month. Boozer has boosted his averages to 17 points and 8.8 boards per contest while shooting .556. Despite making the signature offensive play of the season, a layup to beat Atlanta, Deng’s game has collapsed, however. He’s managing only 11.3 points and 5.2 boards per game while shooting a miserable .351.
I think there are two trends at work here. It’s taken longer for older players to find their groove this season and at the age of 30, Boozer falls into that camp. For Deng, the problem may be that his usual workload needs to be lessened given the 66 game/124 day compressed schedule. Deng is a workhorse who has averaged 35 minutes per game in his career and played 39 minutes per contest last season. He played 40 minutes per game on the road trip, and it looks like it is taking its toll.
Until Rip Hamilton returns to the Bulls lineup on a consistent basis and perhaps beyond, coach Tom Thibodeau will need to become a bit more creative with his rotations. Taj Gibson at the 3? More Jimmy Butler?
The Bulls are in the midst of a three game in three night stretch, and the schedule has few friendly stretches all year. Thibs isn’t afraid to go deep into his bench in general and he may have to go even deeper to keep his team fresh for the games that matter in May and just maybe, June.