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Bulls vs. Sixers, 2012 NBA Playoffs: Luol Deng's successes under pressure

Calm down, Lu. Let me tell you why. (Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE)
Calm down, Lu. Let me tell you why. (Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE)

Luol Deng was the driving force behind what was enough Bulls offense to win an ugly Game Five, scoring 24 points on 19 shots that included three 3-pointers to beat the shot clock. After the game, he said he was "chasing shots".

To which, Kelly Dwyer remarked: "Deng typically tries to guide each shot in, which is why he's had trouble working as a consistent performer from behind the 3-point arc during his career, but in this game, for whatever reason (with the pressure at the absolute highest point it's been all season) he relaxed and let it rip. I'm not talking about shot selection, though Deng was aggressive in that area. I'm referring to actual mechanics."

With some minor poking around at some lightly detailed shot data, Deng's shooting percentages this season and in the playoffs have been at their highest with the pressure at high points.

Including the playoffs, Deng shot a .412 FG% -- a .464 eFG% when accounting for 3s -- in this 2011-12 season. A season where he posted the worst TS% (.500) of his career since the .496 he posted his rookie season.

Both percentages are highest with three minutes or less remaining in a quarter, along with: the game within five points over other margin ranges: and way up in the very narrow, limited sample of time defined as "clutch" by

Here's the shooting data for Deng, depending on the time remaining in a quarter and with the game within various margins on the scoreboard, according to


I've speculated that Deng needs big minutes to produce most. A lot of two-way strong cogs in a team's strategy excel best after developing a rhythm in their shift. Deng's entire value is in his ability to makes reads on both ends, keep active feet based on those reads, and fill space that needs filling. You don't draw these up before the game, other than preparing reactions for opponents' and teammates' actions, so it should be no surprise that Deng has to read the gameflow to best insert himself into it.

Given the way Deng plays: he consumes energy on defense and rests on offense. He normally isn't looking for the ball early in possessions. He isn't a guy who get the ball in isolation to consume a possession. And the Bulls strategize around that by not running plays in which Deng is the Plan B, let alone the Plan A to score.

His eFG% (.556) is highest early in shot clocks, but this is largely off of offensive rebounds, in transition off of defensive rebounds and steals, or quickly taking advantage of his defender sleeping on a basket cut.

But there's something to be said of Dwyer's reference to Deng seeming "relaxed" under pressure in Game Five, remembering that three of his four 3-pointers were shot clock buzzer beaters.

Also, late in shot clock Deng is a difficult assignment. He can camp out in a corner for ten seconds while a ball handler demands help, leaving Deng with a good look. Though his dribble is awkward, he's a big boy and when he begins a dribble in place, positioning is difficult when the defender is preparing to absorb contact; not to mention, even when Deng's dribble is at its worst, his ridiculous wingspan keeps a far distance between a defender and the ball after said defender's been consuming 15-20 seconds of defensive energy.

That said: late in the shot clock, those shots are always difficult. Deng's eFG% sinks to .388 with five or less seconds in a shot clock, according to But all players' shooting percentages dip heavily for even the most renowned possession bailouts in the game -- LeBron James from .554 to .398, Kobe Bryant from .462 to .356, Dwyane Wade from .506 to .441 (ridiculous, BTW), Carmelo Anthony from .463 to .404, and Chris Paul from .521 to .464 (super-duper-ridiculous!). And we should forgive Deng for not being these guys.

Here's the "clutch data" per-36 minutes from the regular season, compared to his total percentages, according to


This sample is only based on 19 shots over 67 minutes. And, again, plays are not normally drawn up for Deng (as shown by the slightly lowered from the already low-for-an-All-Star usage rate); he's usually a "bailout" option in these situations.

But it's another spot this season where we've seen Deng hit shots at high percentages under high pressure and after a wealth of minutes on the floor to read the gameflow.

The 76ers are a hell of a defensive unit, no matter which five players are on the floor. They will force the Bulls to drain a ton of shot clock from possession-to-possession. Deng's most valuable effort on offense is in being aggressive to create the best space to get the ball late in those shot clocks and react on instinct -- instead of waiting for the defense to give him that space -- if he's going to be a reason why the Bulls don't get bounced in Game Six tonight in Philadelphia.