Luol Deng carrying Bulls’ workload in Derrick Rose’s absence
BY JOE COWLEY firstname.lastname@example.org October 25, 2012 9:50PM
Updated: November 27, 2012 11:08AM
Throw the gaudy statistics, the MVP trophy and the commercials out the window.
Not that Joakim Noah doesn’t appreciate those things about Derrick Rose, but those aren’t what stand out.
No, there’s an energy, a certain swagger that Rose provides for his teammates, and that’s what Noah is looking forward to basking in.
“We know that [Rose is] coming back,’’ Noah said. “I don’t know when, none of us does, but we know he’s coming back. I’ll tell you what, that excites me. It’s amazing to be on the same team with him. He is the Bulls right now. You go into any city, any neighborhood, the life he brings when he’s there … I haven’t seen anything like it. I just like being around it.’’
Hearing Noah talk about Rose with such regard, it would seem to be a hard void to fill, considering that Rose is still in the rehab stages of returning from the torn left anterior cruciate ligament injury, with February as the vague timetable for his return.
But there’s another All-Star returning, and as coach Tom Thibodeau reminded the media Thursday, he might be the most important player on the court, even when Rose is back in the mix.
Bring up Luol Deng to Thibodeau, and his face lights up.
“I don’t think you can ever measure how important he is for our team,’’ Thibodeau said. “His statistics don’t measure how important he is. He makes our starters function well; he makes our bench function well; he does so many little things that help you win.
“The guy is a great player and probably doesn’t get the credit that he deserves.’’
When asked what he was expecting from Deng this year, Thibodeau said, ‘‘Same thing as last year and the year before — just about everything.’’
Starting with the minutes Deng again will be asked to play. It’s a good thing the Bulls don’t pay the 6-9 forward by the minute, considering he has averaged almost 40 since Thibodeau took over before the 2010-11 season.
Expect the workload to continue. That means playing small forward with the starting unit, then being the anchor for the second unit. Deng will play the three, the four or even the two, depending on which players Thibodeau uses from his bench.
Not only is Deng excited about that challenge, but he’s embracing it. The way he sees it, life without Rose for the time being will allow him to continue to grow.
“The last two years I’ve become a better leader,’’ Deng said. “I’ve got to do a better job of being a better leader.
‘‘We’ve got a lot of new guys now, and the guys that have been here, we do things a certain way. The new guys are totally committed to it, but the next step I have to take is to be a better leader.’’
Everyone knows that at some point this season, the Bulls will need Rose on the court if they want to go deeper than the first round of the playoffs.
But at the same time, they won’t go very deep with a healthy Rose and no Deng.
“We want to be a five-man offensive team and a five-man defensive team,’’ Thibodeau said. “That’s whether Derrick is here or not here.
“It’s five guys being tied together.’’
With Deng being counted on to hold it all together.