PROJECTED STARTINGFIVE with 2006-07 statistics
October 28, 2007
KEY BENCH PLAYERS:F Andrés Nocioni, F Joe Smith*, G Chris Duhon, F-C Joakim Noah (R), G ThaboSefolosha
*New acquisition (R) Rookie
Record: 49-33 (3rdin East) Points scored: 98.8 (13th in NBA) Points allowed: 93.8 (6th) Coach:Scott Skiles (fifth season with Bulls)
During a six-week,seven-country tour with the British national team this summer, Luol Deng wassurprised to hear kids from Belgium to Belarus screaming his name and wavinghis picture. He shouldn't have been. In his third season the 6' 9'' Deng, whowas born in Sudan and raised in London, averaged career highs in points andrebounds and emerged as the postseason star of a Bulls team that swept thedefending champion Heat and advanced to the second round for the first timesince 1998. "Luol's a very smart player," says Chicago guard BenGordon. "He's the best slasher in the game right now. He does a lot ofthings to get himself open."
Deng impressivelyupped his scoring (to 22.2 points per game) and rebounding (8.7) in theplayoffs, and over the summer he worked on ball handling to help his perimetergame and lifted weights to solidify his post presence. Now the Bulls are eagerto see just how versatile the 22-year-old Deng can be: He had his breakoutseason at small forward but spent time at shooting guard in exhibition games.The objective isn't to take Deng out of his comfort zone but to createmismatches with his size while allowing coach Scott Skiles to take advantage ofChicago's depth up front. In addition to having stalwarts Ben Wallace ("Mygame really elevated when we added him," says Deng) and Andrés Nocioniback, the Bulls drafted Joakim Noah from Florida, signed veteran Joe Smith andexpect to see more from second-year man Tyrus Thomas.
If Deng can handlethe responsibilities, he may see significant time in the backcourt."Initially, we'll look at an individual game based on the matchup,"says assistant coach Jim Boylan, "but Lu's up for any challenge." Evenchasing the likes of Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton and Michael Redd off screens?"I'm competitive," says Deng. "I'm looking forward to it."
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Bulls
Their biggestissue is still the lack of a low-post scorer. The one guy who could solve thatproblem is Tyrus Thomas, who isn't as tough as Scott Skiles would like. He hasthe tools to be a dominant player: He can block shots at one end, beat you downthe floor and dunk on your head at the other. Plus, he can put the ball on thefloor. If he learns to play hard, he'll be a difference-maker. . . . Their mostimportant player is Kirk Hinrich. His shooting is inconsistent--a lot of timeshe just plays too fast--but as a defender he's tenacious. He beats you tospots, he pressures the ball, he's longer than you think, and he's moreathletic than he gets credit for. . . . Ben Gordon is a killer. Every shot hetakes you think he's going to make. They may feel the need to trade him for afrontcourt scorer, but I don't think Hinrich is as good without him. . . . At33 Ben Wallace is still capable of dominating games, but more often than nothe's picking and choosing his moments because he knows he can no longer play82¬†games like a maniac.
Ben Gordonaveraged a team-high 20.7¬†points in 51 games as a starter last season. In31 games coming off the bench, however, Gordon's scoring average was evenbetter: 22.5.
Deng is eager to pick up where he left off last spring.
At 33, Ben Wallace remains a capable rebounder and defender, but the Bulls willneed more scoring from the post if they want to win achampionship.