KEY BENCH PLAYERS:
F Andr�s Nocioni, F Joe Smith*, G Chris Duhon, F-C Joakim Noah (R), G Thabo
*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."
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."
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Bulls
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.
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