Luol Deng has been the target of trade rumors for seemingly forever, and after the first week or so of the year, the chatter was as loud as ever. Following two straight sub-par shooting seasons, Deng got off to a woeful start this year, shooting 38.7 percent overall and 1-of-15 from long range over the first four games. That 38.7 percent was only as high as that because of an abnormally high shooting percentage in the restricted area. At least abnormally high for Deng.
But much like the Bulls' defense, Deng has turned things around of late. During the Bulls' five-game winning streak, Deng is shooting 51.7 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from three. In the last three games, those numbers are at 53.8 percent and 50.0 percent. And while some of that good shooting is still being buoyed by some excellent work close to the basket, the mid-range shooting has seen a bit of an uptick (38.5 percent in the last three games, per NBA.com's stats page).
Monday night against the Bobcats, Deng played extremely well, scoring an efficient 21 points on just 10 shots. He shot a season-high 12 free throws, looking a lot like the preseason Deng that got to the line at a relatively high rate. And going back to the Pacers game, that's 19 free throws in the last two games.
Deng also hit arguably the biggest shot of the game, burying his lone three of the game to give the Bulls a four-point lead with 27 seconds left. And as Caleb Nordgren noted over at the new-look Bulls By The Horns, the way Deng hit the shot was refreshing to see:
My single biggest gripe with Deng this season has been his insistence on shooting a ton of long twos and missing most of them. But last night, in addition to attempting 12 free throws, Deng did something I haven't seen a single Bulls player do, and he did it with the game on the line: He caught the ball outside the arc with a defender running at him, pump faked, and rather than step inside the line for a two, he took - and made - a three to essentially end the game.
Deng has made a habit over the course of his career to shoot long twos, and it seemed like it was something that was starting to rub off on Jimmy Butler this year, as I griped about Butler's pump-faking into long twos a short time ago. But last night, Deng did the right thing and made sure to shoot the three instead of the inefficient long two.
Speaking of Butler, he has had a bit of a shooting revival himself over the last few games (apparently he's the opposite of Samson). Butler has knocked down 5-of-6 from three over the last three games, raising his percentage on the season from 25.0 percent to a very respectable 38.5 percent. That's more in line with what I was hoping for this year. In addition, Butler has also been getting to the line more of late, attempting 17 free throws over the last three games. Now let's just hope that toe injury doesn't keep him out too long.
The one gripe that can be had despite this recent rash of hot shooting from the starting wings is there just hasn't been enough volume on these three-point attempts. It would be nice to see Deng and Butler making a higher percentage while also taking more. Deng's 50 percent from three over the last three games is great, but he still just made 1.33 per game. Butler was just a shade higher at 1.67 per game over the last three. But baby steps, I guess, and for now I'll just settle on these guys hitting anything.
Keeping in line with the shooting theme, K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune had a little tidbit about a certain sharpshooting former Bull that's loved by the manager of this here website (and me!). That's right, Johnson had a chat with Ben Gordon, who has basically been toiling away in NBA obscurity since leaving Chicago.
Gordon said he would be willing to consider a return to the Bulls, and that he would possibly take a huge discount if he has a chance to win a title.
"I had a lot of success here, had a great time here," Gordon said. "I'm not in position to rule anybody out."
"I'm at the point now where I would love to win a championship before I'm done playing," Gordon said. "I won one in high school and college, so I want to put myself in that type of situation. I feel it would complete my career."
Johnson speculated that there was a "miniscule chance" the Bulls would actually offer Gordon even a minimum contract, and who knows if he really would be willing to take it. Gordon is making $13.2 million this year, so maybe he doesn't want to take that big of a pay cut.
Of course, Gordon is being paid that high figure despite essentially doing nothing (nine minutes played this year), and his value can't be very high around the league. The past few seasons he has still shown the ability to shoot the rock when he does get the opportunity to play, but his effort on the defensive end has generally been non-existent. If a guy like Nate Robinson - who has a similar skill set offensively but at least tries defensively - can only get a bi-annual exception offer, it's hard to imagine many teams lining up to throw money at Gordon.
So if BG7 can be had for the minimum, I'm all for exploring it. The Bulls could use that kind of irrational confidence shooter off the bench in a 15-20 minute per game role. Also, one would hope Gordon would at least show a renewed commitment to trying on defense under a coach like Tom Thibodeau and in a more positive situation than Charlotte or Detroit.