Chicago Bulls small forward Luol Deng is an All-Star for the first time in his eight-year career. On the surface it might appear that Deng’s numbers aren’t All-Star worthy. The former Duke Blue Devil is averaging 15.9 points per game, his lowest scoring average since 2009 and the fourth lowest of his career.
The Eastern Conference coaches saw something in Deng to make him a reserve on the 2012 Eastern Conference All-Star team. At the time of his selection the Bulls had the best record in the NBA. It seems only fitting that the team that wins the most should have multiple All-Stars.
Deng does nothing great, but everything good. Deng is second on the Bulls in scoring, third in rebounding, fifth in assists, fourth in blocks, and third in steals. Deng is the second best player on the Chicago Bulls roster behind reigning MVP Derrick Rose and Rose is ecstatic for his teammate’s All-Star selection.
“I’m super happy for Lu,” said Bulls All-Star Derrick Rose. “Lu is someone that deserves it. He’s been playing great for us. He’s been consistent this whole year. I can’t wait to see him out there.”
The ultimate glue guy is finally getting his due. After signing a six-year deal worth $71 million dollars in the summer of 2008, Deng was blasted by Bulls fans and media personnel for not living up to his contract. Most of the blame should go to former Bulls and current Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro. Del Negro had never coached a day in his life when he became Chicago’s coach and had no idea how to utilize Deng’s abilities.
Enter Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau became the Bulls head coach in 2010 and called Deng “underrated” during his first press conference as head coach. The hard-nosed defensive guru saw more in Deng than casual observers could ever see. Thibs got the best out of the man from the Sudan and the result is Deng making his first All-Star team.
“I don’t think there’s a more deserving guy based on what he brings to our team,” Eastern Conference All-Star coach Tom Thibodeau said of Deng. “I felt he should have made it last year. There’s always deserving players that get left off and I though he fell into that category. I’m thrilled that he made it this year because I think he earned it.”
“What he’s brought to our team in terms of winning can’t be measured statistically,” Thibodeau added. “He guards four positions for us. You count on him every night. He makes big shots. Offensively he moves great without the ball, he can slash, he has a great mid-range [shot], and he added the three-point shot—he’s shooting 39% from three. He continues to get better, he’s never satisfied. Each year he’s added something to his game. He’s a great leader. He gets there early, stays late, practices hard, and sets a great example. I’m very happy for him.”
Deng’s All-Star selection is as motivational as New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin’s story. How many players in their eighth season get selected as one of the 24 best players in the game? As cliché as it sounds Luol Deng’s persistence and hard work has finally paid off.
I asked Deng if he had any jitters about playing in his first NBA All-Star Game, “I don’t know how it’s going to be,” Deng said. “I might be nervous like a kid. I might be excited. I really don’t know. I’m sure right before the game starts I’ll let you know exactly how I feel [laughs]. Right now I really don’t know.”
As always, I’m sure you’ll be just fine Lu.