Deng possibly the missing piece in Bulls puzzle after all?

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Luol Deng’s 39 points on Monday night can not be ignored.

He’s the X-factor. If Deng shines this season or even comes close to the potential the Bulls envisioned when they handed him a contract potentially worth up to $80 million, Chicago has a chance to seriously compete in the much-improved east.

Ifs, ands, or buts aside, this is not the first time Deng has flashed his scoring abilities since signing his contract in 2008. However, his inconsistency to shoot efficiently on a nightly basis has caused the love -hate relationship fans have with the oft-injured yet talented forward. Let’s face it, Deng’s play since 2008 has had more flip-flops than a spring break pool party.

But at age 25, there is still time for Deng to mature into a more consistent scorer and the talent is clearly there. Tom Thibodeau believes Deng can make the jump this year, and there couldn’t be a better time to do it.

In Bill Simmons’ column from October 29th about the architectural build of the Miami Heat, he mentions that “teams win championships conventionally (an alpha dog superstar, an accomplished sidekick, a third elite player, than five or six role players) and unconventionally (three or four elite starters who complement each other, then four or five role players).”

The Bulls of the ’90s were, as Simmons puts it, conventional. Pippen played sidekick to Jordan, Rodman the elite power forward and Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper, John Paxon, Steve Kerr, Luke Longley and Horace Grant were the role players that made Jordan’s teams some of the best that ever played on hardwood. The current Bulls roster, on paper, seems to be a player shy of this formula.

I truly believe that Carlos Boozer can be the Robin to Rose’s Batman. If that’s the case, certainly Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer should prove to be an excellent arsenal of role players. The only thing missing from the formula is a third elite player – the kind who can score 39 points on a given night.

If Deng can finally prove himself worthy of his contract and be the number three scoring option Gar Forman and John Paxson felt the team lacked over the summer, the Bulls could be primed for a deep playoff run.

But basketball isn’t about formulas. What looks good on paper, doesn’t always transfer directly to the court. Whether Deng can be the type of player the Bulls once hoped is a giant question mark, but Monday night’s game was certainly a step in the right direction. On a night when Derrick Rose only managed 15 points, the Bulls needed a scorer to pick up his slack – Deng answered that call.

A strong team has several players it can rely on. If Deng continues his progression into a consistent scorers role and Boozer can come back to match expectations, the Bulls could be a scary team to face down the stretch.

–Ethan Asofsky

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