07 April 2011

The Most Unheralded Bull

...is Luol Deng. If for nothing else than the fact that if you were to pick a "Big Three" (one of the most unoriginal, overrated, yet somehow always in vogue nickname there is) for the Chicago Bulls, you would pick, in order, Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, and Joakim Noah.

But a quick look at the Bulls stats says otherwise. Deng is arguably the Bulls' third scoring option behind Rose and Boozer, and is less than a half point per game from averaging more points than Boozer, netting him 3rd on the team and 32nd in the NBA. He's also 4th on the team in rebounds, 2nd in assists, 1st in minutes (4th in NBA), and 4th in steals.

A lot of people, including myself, were quite skeptical of Deng after he signed a 6-year, $71 million contract in 2008, and those criticisms were right for the first couple years. He was being paid like a franchise player without actually being a franchise player. Granted, he's still making more than $11 million this year, but at long last he seems like he's earning it. He playing a career high in minutes per game (39.4), and already has taken (314) and made (107) more threes than in the rest of his career combined.

Now I'm not saying Deng is having a career year, but this might be the first year his contributions to the team match his skill level. You're not winning playoff series if Luol is your best player (as was the case in 06-07 and 07-08, when the Bulls went a combined 82-82). I love Deng as a 2nd or 3rd banana. He'll never, for the most part, be asked to carry the scoring load on a given night, but can be counted on for a clutch 3 as a part of a 20-7-4, or a hard drive to the bucket to draw a foul (something I've never seen him do on a consistent basis).

The most underrated part of Deng's game is his defense. In games against top opponents, Deng always seems to be on the opponent's top scoring threat. Tonight's game against Boston serves as a perfect example. Matched up against the all-time leading 3-point shooter, Ray Allen, Deng rose to the occasion on national TV, holding Allen to 3-of-11 shooting (0-of-3 from three), 6 rebounds and 2 assists in 38 minutes. This was also while putting up a 23-6 himself, shooting 50% from both the field (9/18) and 3-point land (3/6). This season I've seen him stifle the likes of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, among others, and his the Bulls' best defensive option (leading the team in defensive win shares).

Luol Deng should ultimately at least be in the conversation for an NBA All-Defensive team. I'm not asking for first, I don't think I'm asking for second either. Just as long as he's in the conversation, I'll be happy.

Not bad for a 3rd banana, eh?

05 April 2011

Richmond to enter NBA draft. I say good riddance

As Illini fans now know, freshman Jereme Richmond has declared for the 2011 NBA draft. I had this thought initially, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought it was right. The initial thought was that "What? Richmond isn't even a consistent starter!" Which is true, as he only made 6 starts all year.

Then there's the point that his missed Illinois's NCAA tournament games due to an "athletic code violation," which says to me that he didn't gel with the coaching staff. I'm sorry, but even as a 23-year-old who was still in college as little as 11 months ago, I put much more stock in coach Bruce Weber than I do in a punk freshman in Richmond. It seems like a cop out... "To hell with you guys, I'm getting outta here," or something along those lines. I remember where I heard it, but I also found that Richmond also not going to class, which, no matter how good of an athlete one is, will put you on the black list in my book. Actions like this are more short-sighted than they can even imagine, and it's a slap in the face to a fine academic institution.

In a clear PR move, Richmond made the following statement:
"I enjoyed my time at the University of Illinois and would like to thank the coaching staff and my teammates for everything they've done for me. At this time, I'm ready to follow my dreams and achieve my life-long goal of playing in the NBA."
I can think nothing but thinking of this as a saving face attempt (and not the best at that), given his attendance issues previously mentioned.

You can also point to the fact of a possible NBA lockout. From all indications, there's less likely to be a 2011-12 NBA season than there is to be a 2011 NFL season (which is pretty bleak as it is). Chalk up another point to why Richmond's decision seems immature and short-sighted, and you can say that to literally any college basketball player who is not a senior this year. Critics will say "Oh, they need to get out while they can, it would just be more time to find holes in their game. And what if he gets injured?" To this I say, what good is heading to the NBA if there is a good possibility of there not even being an NBA in the coming season.

The last reason why Richmond's decision is short-sighted is strictly from a talent standpoint. My knee-jerk reaction of him not even starting works against him sooooo much here. This might fly as Kentucky, where John Calipari is pulling in 5-star recruits every year and it's just a matter of competition for a starting spot. Illinois wasn't exactly a gold mine in terms of talent. ESPN's NBA draft expert Chad Ford has Richmond at #45 on his Big Board, projecting him as a late first to early second round pick.

Only first round picks are guaranteed a contract, and most second round picks are fringe roster fillers at best. I can't imagine the career length of a second round pick is very long either. You can see where I'm going here, as Richmond would be depending on money from a rookie contract for a considerably large amount of time. Keep in mind, this is if there even is an NBA season in 2011-12.

So I can say go ahead and credit Jereme Richmond with the fact that he was the 2010 Illinois Mr. Basketball and a McDonald's All-American as a testament to his talent level. There was still a lot to be developed under Weber in future possible years at U of I, and it was a very juvenile decision to leave and declare for the draft.


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