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The Bulls needed this. They needed Luol Deng to have an effective game at some point. After starting off the season with a Derrick Rose-centric offense that forced Rose to take 29 shots per game, the Bulls needed someone to step up and contribute offensively. With Carlos Boozer out, adjustments have to be made and players have to step up.
Deng, who was seven-of-23 during the first two games of the season and was benched in favor of James Johnson down the stretch against the Pistons on Saturday, responded. It didn’t matter who was defending him. It didn’t matter where he was spotting up from. He was on and he produced the biggest scoring performance of the young season with sterling efficiency.
Deng used 30.5% of Chicago’s possessions, but he made 14 of his 19 shots, 11 of which were assisted. Deng shot five-of-eight from 16-23 feet, he drilled three three’s and he used aggressive closeouts by the Blazers against them by driving to the lane and earning 11 free throws. Luol had a true shooting percentage of 83.9% and put in a sparkling 1.63 points per possession.
With Deng going off, Derrick Rose got to take over the role of a traditional point guard for at least a night. He only took 11 shots (made six), scored 16 points, and tied his career high in assists with 13 helpers, most of which were to Deng.
When Rose can score and distribute at a balanced rate, Deng is scoring efficiently and the Bulls control the boards like they did tonight against one of the better rebounding teams in the NBA, Chicago is a hard team to beat. Defensively, this group is already showing some encouraging signs. Rose still needs some work, but overall, this club is defending well under Tom Thibodeau.
Even when Boozer comes back, Deng will need to continue to be effective. Obviously, scoring at this rate is impossible for anyone to keep up over the course of a season, but he does need to continue to hit the 16-23 foot jumper that he loves to take at an above average clip and his aggressive dribble-drives will almost always produce positive results thanks to his solid handle and strong and athletic frame that allows him to finish at the rim.
The Bulls can’t have Rose as their only perimeter scoring threat and succeed offensively. They need diversity and someone else that can create their own looks. Kyle Korver can light it up on any given night, but his offensive success is based on the effectiveness of down screens and how defenses react to those picks. Deng can isolate in the pinch and score and the Bulls will need him to do just that as the season progresses.
Portland rode LaMarcus Aldridge all game long. They gave it to him on the block and in a face-up position on the side of the free throw line and let him go to work. He finished with 33 points on 12-of-19 shooting. Aldridge had a few mid-range jumpers but he took it into the paint and attempted 12 shots within 10 feet, which is a welcome change from last season’s perimeter oriented performance from Aldridge. Brandon Roy added 17 points for Portland, who lost their first game of the season.A fun watch until the very end, the Kings made a strong comeback in the fourth quarter with spirited play against a Raptors team that couldn’t put the ball into the basket in the key stretch of the game. Tyreke Evans had the signature moment of the game, pushing the ball in transition with the game tied at 98 and finishing with a beautiful scoop lay-up.
DeMarcus Cousins impressed in this contest, though he was continuously beat on the boards. He had 16 points on six-of-10 shooting with eight points coming in the fourth quarter. Omri Casspi had a clutch dunk and a pair of three’s and Evans finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists on nine-of-16 shooting. The Kings, playing with refreshing energy and a whole lot of heart, are quickly becoming one of the funnest teams to watch in the entire league.
Andrea Bargnani was effective for the Raptors. He made 10 of his 17 shots and only one of his attempts came at the rim. He finished with a game high 28 points. Of course, Bargnani did have just two rebounds, but that has open the door for Reggie Evans to evolve into the league’s most effective one dimensional player. Evans grabbed 19 rebounds in this game and snatched 32.7% of all available rebounds. Evans has grabbed 16, 14 and now 19 rebounds over the first three games of the season. In 94 minutes, he has taken just 11 shots. Second year player DeMar DeRozan showed flashes of his potential in this game, making seven of his 12 field goals while utilizing his athleticism to warrant 14 free throw attempts.This was an ugly game. The Spurs did their usual thing, getting the ball into Tim Duncan, getting easy looks at the rim with his shot creation skills, while hitting the occasional three-pointer to kill momentum. And when the Spurs do that against a bad team, especially one that started a rookie point guard in Eric Bledsoe, the game shouldn’t be close. Surprisingly, this game was in reach for Los Angeles for a quite a while but they couldn’t manufacture an effective offensive set.
Eric Gordon looked great in this game. His shot has been off so far this season, but his ability to get to the rim is shining through like never before. He attacked the Spurs’ bigs, converting on one of the season’s most impressive poster jams in the process, while shooting 10-of-17 overall from the field. With Bledsoe looking lost for most of the game, Gordon took over most of the ball-handling duties and was very successful, compiling 11 assists to just two turnovers.
Spurs’ Brazilian rookie Tiago Splitter picked up the first basket of his NBA career on a roll to the basket that he capped off with a jam. At some point this season, I expect him to take over the starting center spot, putting rebound machine DeJuan Blair into the second unit where he was most effective last season.