I intended this to come shortly after Deng signed. But, it sat half finished for a couple of months.
Too often people focus on the wrong aspects of Deng's game, especially Deng's overrated midrange jumper. There is all too much emphasis on changing Deng's game without acknowledging where Deng's value comes from in the first place. Both Deng and the Bulls need to be aware of how Deng's attempts to expand his offensive game impacts the core of his existing game. Adding skills can actually have a detrimental effect on a player's impact if those skills are used improperly. When Rasheed Wallace developed a 3-point shot, he certainly had more potential as an offensive player. And he has certainly used that skill to make some big shots, but has it ultimately made him a more effective basketball player on a consistent basis? For a season or two it did, but since then I would say no. And I have some similar concerns about Deng, and his quest to expand his game. How he and the team employ those new skills will determine whether they make Deng a more effective player.
Offensively Deng's core value has comparatively little to do with the jumpshot that was over hyped by everyone from the stooges broadcasting Bulls games to Hubie Brown during the 06/07 season. Deng is not one of the best midrange jumpshooters in the league and he never was. The reason the Bulls have been 5.2, 2.7, 6.1, and 4.6 points per 100 possessions better on offense with Deng on the court over the last four years is not Deng's jumpshot. The bulk of Deng's offensive value comes from Deng's points in the paint, the 7.7 and 6.7 points per game that Deng has scored in the paint the last two years. In 06/07 when Deng played all 82 games, he scored 26% of the team's points in the paint on 22% of the team's FGAs in the paint. Between cuts to the basket and offensive rebounding Deng scores both frequently and efficiently in the paint, which has set him apart from everyone else on the roster the last two seasons. This is the core value that needs to be protected.
There is always discussion of Deng needing to develop either a post game or a 3-point shot. It would be great if he did either, but I also think there is too little recognition of the potential pitfalls of either scenario. Deng's greatest strength is his cutting ability off the ball, especially from the weak side. Taking Deng away from that role needs to result in something better otherwise the team is taking two steps back to take one forward, which is exactly what I thought happened last year.
The team came into last season committed to playing Deng at SG in the preseason and more importantly committed to posting Deng up. Throughout the preseason Deng was isolated in the post. Deng put up fade away after fade away with mediocre results at best, and this continued through the 1st part of the regular season. The central problem with Deng posting up is that it prevents him from doing what he does best, cutting to the basket from the weak side. Putting Deng in the post, not only focuses the defense on Deng, but removes the team's biggest off the ball threat. That's the two steps back. Deng may be able to reach a point where he can justify posting up by dominating specific matchups, but until he can the team should be hesitant to put him in that position.
So what about Deng taking 3-pointers? I'm simply curious about Deng's 3-point shooting. Deng becoming a consistent 3-point shooter can be done with less detrimental results. I played close attention to the few 3s Deng took last season, and was pleased with the results. His mechanics were good. He wasn't alterng his form to achieve the necessary distance on his shot. There was one shot early in the season that really stood out. With the shot clock running down, he came off a screen on the right wing caught the ball and knocked in a 28 footer while shooting over the screen with his natural mechanics. After last season I'm confident that Deng could shoot a solid % on a modest number of 3-point attempts, maybe 1 or 2 3PA per game. But, 3-point shooting is only a benefit if moving back two feet isn't preventing from getting to the rim.
More important than a post game or a 3-point shot is Deng's actually developing a true midrange game, rather than just a midrange jumpshot. This is where I think the team and Deng should place the most emphasis. The ability for Deng to create his own shot facing up from 18 feet and in when the defense recovers in time to prevent the initial shot is more essential than jump hooks or 3s, and it doesn't get talked about enough. Deng learning to create space to get his shot off with a fake or a dribble is more important than 3-point shooting or posting because it's organic to what he already does well as a player. There's one play from the 07' Miami series that has always stood out to me. With the Bulls needing a bucket Deng dribbled to his left across the FT line to create space and then pulled up and knocked down a jumper over his defender with his momentum still carrying him to his left. That's the type of play I wanted to see from Deng the most last season, a fake, a dribble to create space, and a jumpshot over his defender. This should be Deng's 1st priority. The skills to create a shot.
Don't get me wrong. I want to see Deng improve his entire skill set. I want him to improve his post game, add range on his shot, and improve his mid-range game. Those would all be good things in the abstract, and I hope they happen. But, the Bulls and Deng have to be aware of how they develop and employ those new skills. There has to be awareness that anything that too far removes Deng from his weak side cuts will likely be detrimental to the team.