CHARLOTTE, N.C.: Luol Deng has reached the point where he has played more games with the Cavaliers this season than the Chicago Bulls, but his numbers between the two teams are dramatically different.
In 23 games with the Bulls, Deng averaged 19 points, 6.9 rebounds and was shooting 45 percent. In 26 games with the Cavs, he is averaging 14.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and shooting 40 percent.
Deng scored the majority of his points in Chicago off cuts to the basket — 46 percent of his assisted baskets came with assists from big men Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. With the Cavs, 46 percent of Deng’s assisted baskets have been on assists from Kyrie Irving and Jarrett Jack. It’s a new way of life and Deng has admittedly struggled to adjust because the Cavs don’t play through the post the way the Bulls did.
“If the ball is on the wing, it’s very easy to guard a cut,” Deng said. “I think a lot of our plays are that way.”
Even more striking, only 12 of Deng’s 168 shots in the paint with the Bulls this season were blocked. With the Cavs, 29 of his 160 shots in the paint have been blocked. Deng blames that on the Achilles injury that has hobbled him since coming to Cleveland.
“I could’ve sat out about a month with it, but I chose not to and I’ve done that in the past. I try to play through my injuries. I just hate taking time off,” Deng said. “I kind of kept it to myself, but it has taken a lot away from me in terms of preparing myself to do what I do.”
Deng said there are days he wakes up and feels great. There are other days he wakes up and his heel aches.
Everything in Chicago is so structured, he said, that coach Tom Thibodeau called every play. During timeouts, Thibodeau could draw up three plays and the players would be expected to remember all three. But if they scored on the first play, they’d run it again until it stopped working. Then they’d move on to play No. 2.
It required a tremendous amount of focus, memory and concentration.
“Here we draw one play and sometimes we don’t get it right,” Deng said.
Brown said last week a play call is the Cavs’ fourth option. He wants to push in transition first, then play pick-and-roll and move the ball side to side. If all else fails, the Cavs will go into a play call. That type of freedom has left Deng unsure of where everyone is on the floor at all times.
“If you have a vet team, I think you can get away with not calling a lot of stuff,” Deng said. “I think Mike really trusts in his players and he allows sometimes for them to call plays. With Thibs, Thibs doesn’t trust anybody. He wants to call the plays, but he’s good at it.”
It’s fair to assume the Cavs expected more out of Deng this season, and Deng acknowledged his adjustment to the Cavs has been more difficult at times than he expected. But the Cavs aren’t going to restructure everything they do midseason to fit one player.
“Lu did a really good job of playing off those guys [in Chicago] and that’s where his extra two or three buckets probably came from,” Brown said. “Lu’s had probably two or three wide open 3s or wide open jumpers throughout the course of the game because of a guy like Kyrie and now a guy like Spencer or because of Tristan rolling. But that wasn’t his strength before coming here.”
No love for Al
Bobcats center Al Jefferson has single-handedly kept the Bobcats in playoff contention this season and entered Friday one of only five players in the league averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love are the others, yet Jefferson never seems to be mentioned in their elite company.
“The toughest part is he really hasn’t won at a high level,” Brown said. “I think the respect is there from around the league, but in terms of winning at a high level in the playoffs, I think that’s what’s holding him back.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.