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3 Chicago Bulls
Elizabeth McGarr
October 29, 2007
A breakout star at forward will try to become a nightmare matchup at guard
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October 29, 2007

3 Chicago Bulls

A breakout star at forward will try to become a nightmare matchup at guard

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KEY BENCH PLAYERS: F Andr�s Nocioni, F Joe Smith*, G Chris Duhon, F-C Joakim Noah (R), G Thabo Sefolosha
*New acquisition (R) Rookie

Record: 49-33 (3rd in 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 was surprised to hear kids from Belgium to Belarus screaming his name and waving his picture. He shouldn't have been. In his third season the 6' 9'' Deng, who was born in Sudan and raised in London, averaged career highs in points and rebounds and emerged as the postseason star of a Bulls team that swept the defending champion Heat and advanced to the second round for the first time since 1998. "Luol's a very smart player," says Chicago guard Ben Gordon. "He's the best slasher in the game right now. He does a lot of things to get himself open."

Deng impressively upped his scoring (to 22.2 points per game) and rebounding (8.7) in the playoffs, and over the summer he worked on ball handling to help his perimeter game and lifted weights to solidify his post presence. Now the Bulls are eager to see just how versatile the 22-year-old Deng can be: He had his breakout season 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 create mismatches with his size while allowing coach Scott Skiles to take advantage of Chicago's depth up front. In addition to having stalwarts Ben Wallace ("My game really elevated when we added him," says Deng) and Andr�s Nocioni back, the Bulls drafted Joakim Noah from Florida, signed veteran Joe Smith and expect to see more from second-year man Tyrus Thomas.

If Deng can handle the 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." Even chasing the likes of Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton and Michael Redd off screens? "I'm competitive," says Deng. "I'm looking forward to it."

ENEMY LINES
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Bulls

Their biggest issue is still the lack of a low-post scorer. The one guy who could solve that problem is Tyrus Thomas, who isn't as tough as Scott Skiles would like. He has the tools to be a dominant player: He can block shots at one end, beat you down the floor and dunk on your head at the other. Plus, he can put the ball on the floor. If he learns to play hard, he'll be a difference-maker. . . . Their most important player is Kirk Hinrich. His shooting is inconsistent--a lot of times he just plays too fast--but as a defender he's tenacious. He beats you to spots, he pressures the ball, he's longer than you think, and he's more athletic than he gets credit for. . . . Ben Gordon is a killer. Every shot he takes you think he's going to make. They may feel the need to trade him for a frontcourt scorer, but I don't think Hinrich is as good without him. . . . At 33 Ben Wallace is still capable of dominating games, but more often than not he's picking and choosing his moments because he knows he can no longer play 82�games like a maniac.

FAST FACT

Ben Gordon averaged a team-high 20.7�points in 51 games as a starter last season. In 31 games coming off the bench, however, Gordon's scoring average was even better: 22.5.

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