It's sad really, that Luol Deng had to land in South Beach in the shadow of LeBron James and his departure. The man who's known as the saving grace of our offseason will forever be under-appreciated for the great player he is.
It's already started, with Dwyane Wade re-emerging as an offensive force and Chris Bosh becoming the clear number one option. but newcomer Luol Deng is flying under the radar. His under-appreciation is almost uncanny. Deng has been an extremely solid contributor for Miami in their first five games, averaging 13 points, and 3 rebounds while at the same time delivering on defense. What makes Deng different from many that have been thrust into similar roles, is that he embraces it. Deng wants to be better, he wants to be the third option for Miami and is doing everything he can to get there.
When asked about becoming the third option for Miami after Friday's practice, Deng was optimistic saying:
"The sooner the better, I do want to be that person. Sometimes it takes time, you gotta have patience, my solution has been just to work hard, I'm healthy I feel great. I was dinged up the other night, but nothing major. As long as I'm healthy I'm going to work hard."
Hard work is all we can ask from Deng, who has demonstrated in the past that he will do anything in his power to win. Deng is extremely tenacious, and has certainly battled his fair share of adversity. It was just two short years ago that he underwent a spinal tap procedure that almost cost him his life and returned strong and ready to play. Deng has also faced his fair share of criticism, even in Chicago where he was labeled "brittle" despite suffering from real injury yet he always proves doubters wrong.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau recognized this in Deng saying:
"Sometimes that’s the best type of leadership that you can have," says Thibs. "To me, it’s just all the intangibles that he brings to winning. He has very good statistics, but you can’t measure his true value to the team by his statistics. He just brings so much toughness to our team."
It's clear at this point in his career that Deng will never be considered a star, despite his obvious talent. Much of this has to do with where he's played, overused in Derrick Rose's Chicago Bulls and a poor fit under Mike Brown's "guidance" with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Deng has never been the go-to guy.
Deng still won't have that type of role in Miami, nevertheless as he progresses through the season and regains his shooting stroke there is no doubt that he can average double figures every night. Although it's cliché you can't measure "heart" in a box score, but really that's what Deng brings to this Heat team. He's still one of the top players in the game, and as he grows comfortable that will be made apparent.
It was in Raiders of the Lost Ark that Indiana Jones said, "It's the not the age, it's the mileage" and Deng embodies this quotation entirely. While leading the league in minutes played took a tole on his body in Chicago, it also gave him an experience level very few reach, especially in the NBA. With that Deng has become an unorthodox threat, and that should terrify opposing teams. In a close game where someone has to step up on both sides of the ball, I can't imagine anybody but Deng leading by example.