When the Bulls lost to the Wizards in last year's first round of the playoffs, many blamed it on the absence of injured Chicago center Eddy Curry. Few seemed to remember that the Bulls were also without 6'8" small forward Luol Deng, who had suffered torn ligaments in his right wrist on March 28. "That was me," Deng says with a smile, "the forgotten man."
Not this year. With Curry traded to the Knicks, the Bulls are counting on Deng to emerge as a fourth star alongside Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon and Tyson Chandler. With his 7-foot wingspan and quick feet, Deng was an integral part of a defense that held opponents to the worst field goal shooting in the league (42.2%). He also showed a knack for knocking down the open 15-footer and was named first-team All-Rookie after being chosen seventh out of Duke. "He's a big guy who can handle the ball, shoot it, slash to the basket and rebound," says Knicks forward-center Antonio Davis, who went to New York as part of the Curry trade.
While rehabbing this summer, Deng, 20, was unable to lift weights with his right hand, so he focused on making his legs and back stronger. "Hopefully it will improve my defense," he says. He also developed his sinistral side, the result of having his right arm in a cast for 10 weeks. "I had to learn to do everything lefthanded," he says. "Turn on lights, open doors, eat meals, even sign autographs. But I think it's going to make me a better player."
If Deng can add some scoring pop and help get Chicago back to the playoffs, he won't have to worry about being a forgotten man any longer. --Marty Burns
Enemy Lines An opposing team's scout sizes up the Bulls
"Had they entered this year with a healthy Eddy Curry at center, they would have been trying to crack the top four in the East, but concerns about his heart resulted in his being traded to the Knicks.... They lost their best post players in Curry and Antonio Davis in that trade but got Mike Sweetney, who can score down there, and Tim Thomas, who is versatile.... Curry's departure means Tyson Chandler moves to center, a position that best suits his limited offensive skills. He doesn't have a low-post game, but he gets his points from the offensive glass and by running the floor.... It's a good thing they acquired veteran Darius Songaila to fill in at power forward and play some backup center.... Ben Gordon is an excellent shooter with three-point range who uses his quickness and speed to get by people for his pull-up jump shot. You might see teams trying to trap the pick-and-roll this year to try to get the ball out of his hands.... Kirk Hinrich has turned out to be better than anyone imagined. He's a leader who plays hard every night, plus he defends and he rebounds well for his position.... Andres Nocioni is Scott Skiles's type of hard-nosed player, an energy guy with a physical presence though he's a little foul-prone. In the playoffs he showed he could score, which gave them a tremendous lift."
Ben Gordon had the most points in a fourth quarter last season (22), and his 21 double-digit fourth quarters ranked second to LeBron James's 22.
Projected Starting Lineup with 2004--05 statistics
Record: 47--35 (3rd in East)
Points scored: 94.5 (21st in NBA)
Points allowed: 93.4 (7th)
Coach: Scott Skiles (third season with the Bulls)