The biggest question coming into this year’s NBA free agency was if “The Big Three” in Miami would stay together. Within the last week LeBron James elected to do what many thought was likely an impossibility — he went back home to Cleveland. As such, the big three have officially disbanded, leaving many questioning the future of the Miami Heat. With Chris Bosh re-signing and Dwayne Wade also returning, the Heat look to be headed in the right direction. This good direction continued to show its promise when Pat Riley signed Luol Deng to a two-year contract to replace James last week in a move that will change the makeup and strategy of the Miami Heat.
Deng may very well end up being the sleeper signing of this 2014 offseason. LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were obviously the two players that had the most attention this offseason. However, Deng, arguably, could be considered the most underrated of this offseason class. Despite spending most of his career in the large market of Chicago, Deng has never been a player that wanted the attention. Additionally, with players such as Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah on his squad, he never was the focus of the team. However, what Deng has been able to do is quietly become one of the league’s best all-around and consistent players.
During his 10-year career, Deng has put up career averages of 16 ppg, 6.3 rpg and 1 spg. His numbers do not jump off the stat sheet. This is because Deng has, throughout his career, proved to be one of the best teammates in the league. He is one of the least selfish players in the game. Because of this, in order to be effective, the small forward does not need to be the top scorer, nor does he need to have the most touches in the game. While on the Bulls, he had a season high this past season of 19 ppg as well as 14.3 ppg in a lessened role in Cleveland, but overall he was often times the second or third option on his squad. He helped where he could offensively as only to be part of the systematic approach enacted by coach Tom Thibodeau. The most prolific offensive player he is not, but he proved to be the most consistent on the Bulls, particularly for a team who has been one of the worst in terms of offensive efficiency over the last few years. That said, he can be a great asset offensively to Miami.
Offense is not Deng’s only or best asset. Defense has been the calling card for the Chicago Bulls. As such, Deng has been one of their top stoppers on the squad. He can guard players from anywhere on the court whether from the arc, inside the key or even underneath the basket. It is not due to brute strength or quickness though. Deng has a great basketball IQ that results in him having impeccable timing. Moreover, at 6’9″ he can guard most positions from point guard to power forward if needed. Additionally, he has that ability to crash the boards quite significantly as a small forward while also having that innate ability to get his teammates involved.
Deng, being one of the best teammates in the league, will allow him to be a great asset to the Miami Heat. Instead of the small forward leading the charge, Miami will most likely see Chris Bosh transition from the third option to the first option on the team, while Wade’s health continues to be on the decline. While Deng is replacing James at the small forward position, he is a completely different player than James. To compliment the remaining two players of the big three, Deng will do anything that is asked of him as one of the most flexible swingmen. As such, he will be a key ingredient that will make the Miami Heat one of the most unpredictable teams during the 2013-2014 season.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey