Miami Heat Small Forward Preview: Luol Deng Set to Contribute


Analyzing Last Year’s Performance

Luol Deng spent nine seasons in Chicago, establishing himself as a versatile defender, athletic swingman and generally good teammate and person. In the last year of his contract, he expected a notoriously cheap Bulls front office to reward him for his hard work and consistency, despite some wear-and-tear that might be due to head coach Tom Thibodeau’s aggressive practice techniques. Instead, Deng was shipped to the Cleveland Cavaliers halfway through the season in a move that cleared salary cap space for both teams.

Deng responded by being solid yet unspectacular. He played in 40 games for Cleveland, averaging 14.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. While publicly stating that he might return to the Cavs, it never seemed to be a good fit for either side (they did get LeBron James, after all). Deng was linked to a news story about the Cavs dysfunctional locker room and he seemed to be biding his time when he could hit free agency.

He had decent games for Cleveland, as shown by this highlight reel of his best game last season, a 27-point outing against the Lakers:

This shows his range, his deceptive speed and some athletic finishes at the rim. As you can see in this shot chart (courtesy of Nylon Calculus) of last season, he’s not nearly as effective as James or even Dwyane Wade but he has the range and willingness to shoot from anywhere on the court:

How LeBron’s Departure Impacts His Role

Deng might have the hardest job of any Heat player next season. If he was on any other team, he’d be welcomed and his likely production would be considered spectacular. In Miami, he fills the shoes of a four-time MVP and the best player in the NBA.

Still, there’s a lot to look forward to. Deng is a great defender, long-limbed and with active hands. He’s not the finisher James is but he can attack the rim, especially when healthy (as he’s expected to be). Don’t look to him to pass much or facilitate the offense; that job falls on Josh McRoberts or Mario Chalmers.

Deng can move well with or without the ball, he can get by defenders or simply rise up with his long arms. His defense is probably more consistent than James’, despite the latter’s reputation as top defender. Fans may put pressure on Deng to replace James; they shouldn’t and instead be happy they have a great player in his own right.

Projections for this Season

Deng’s health issues have been ongoing for seasons – a wrist injury, sprained Achilles heel and complications from a spinal tap are the most notable. Those seem to be well in the past. He’s posted several images of him working out this season and Deng will likely be the player that once started 75 games just two seasons ago.

Deng’s addition gives Miami a very versatile starting unit (as currently projected), so it will be interesting to see Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra use these adaptable parts. While some critics believe Deng’s inconsistent shooting from long range makes him a duplicate of Wade, the former is a career 33 percent shooter (shooting nearly 37 percent on 215 attempts during the ’11-’12 season). With Chris Bosh expected to do some work in the low post and with McRoberts solid passing, Deng’s shooting will need to be on the higher end of his career spectrum.

I expect him to shoot around 36 percent on a high number of attempts, and averaging around 15 points per game. Considering how much deeper this team is than last year’s Cleveland squad, Deng will have outplayed expectations if he meets that type of production.

“Why I’m Excited” – Wes Goldberg

Because Luol Deng is better than LeBron Jam–okay not so much. In much the same way I was excited to watch Ray Allen after he came over from the Boston Celtics, I’m excited to see Deng on our side. After watching him play for the Bulls for years, jealous of his hustle and physical play, now we get him in Miami. Not specific to Deng but influenced by his presence in exchange of James’, the Heat will likely feature an offense more reliant on ball movement as opposed to “Hey LeBron figure it out!”

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