Circumstances changed for the worse for the Chicago Bulls this season. In the worst way.
But following the trade of Luol Deng, the Bulls have gone 8-2 and, overall, look like a much better basketball team. This run is in the midst of nagging injuries across the roster to Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich, and, of course, the season-ending meniscus tear for Derrick Rose.
Long story short, the Bulls should be losing.
I don't believe the Bulls' current success streak post-Luol Deng says anything about Deng as a player or teammate, but some interesting patterns have emerged that I think speaks directly to why this team is now tied with the Toronto Raptors for the fourth seed in the East and playing its best basketball of the season:
Defense, Defense, Defense
The type of defense that Tom Thibodeau's teams play is consistently suffocating and can go a long way to masking a handful of offensive shortcomings. The Bulls are currently second in the league in points against (92.5).
Since Deng's departure, the Bulls' defense is giving up 92.8 points per game, compared to 92.4 before the trade.
Deng is rightfully lauded for his high-quality defense, but the Bulls are filling the void nicely.
The Bulls are scoring more without Deng
Prior to the trade, the Bulls were averaging 91.3 points per game. After, they are averaging 97.9, which directly correlates with the 8-2 record since the trade.
Again, this isn't to speak poorly of Deng. What it speaks highly of is the balance the Bulls have been playing with since his departure. The Bulls are among those unique teams that succeed because no one is the elite, obvious go-to player.
Team assists have gone up over three assists per game (21.4 to 24.5), and the Bulls now have six players averaging in double figures since the trade -- D.J. Augustin (16.5), Carlos Boozer (15.9), Jimmy Butler (12.1), Mike Dunleavy (13.2), Taj Gibson (12.5), Joakim Noah (14.1).
Combined with the defense maintaining its elite status, the offensive balance is making it tougher for the Bulls to fall apart on any given night.
It's one thing if your top player is LeBron James or Kevin Durant (who drop 25 points on a bad night), but if you're relying on a player like Deng to be your primary scorer (who has 25 on a good night), then you're more likely to suffer from an "off" night collectively. The Bulls now have such a plethora of modest scoring options that they don't feel the shock wave as much when one player struggles.
Above and beyond performances
All the talk about balance can overlook the fact that, since the Deng trade, the Bulls have benefited from a few specific players performing exceptionally well.
Augustin and Noah would probably be the two most visible. The argument can be made that there are a truckload of intangibles that have contributed to the Bulls' streak of success post-Deng, but Augustin and Noah have done things that are very tangible.
Before the trade, Augustin was averaging 9.8 points, 5.7 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. Since the trade, he's averaging 16.5 points, 6.6 assists, and 1 steal per game.
Noah is playing at All-Star levels -- 14.1 points, 15.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists, and 2 blocks per game since the trade, compared to 10.9 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.1 blocks per game.
Stats will logically go up for most of the players when you remove an All-Star talent like Deng because someone has to step in and play the minutes. But the stat increases and the intangibles you can only get by watching this team play show just how much grit and determination they have.
Oh, yeah, it also helps that the Eastern Conference is pretty terrible.
Brian is a lifelong Chicago Bulls follower. Living in Illinois his entire life has given him a chance to closely follow and report Chicago sports as a freelance writer through Yahoo Contributor Network and Yahoo Sports. He is also a senior majoring in Creative Writing.
- Sports & Recreation
- Chicago Bulls
- Luol Deng