Though he largely played close to his career averages last season, many Miami Heat enthusiasts considered Luol Deng's 2014-2015 season a disappointment.
In the 2014 NBA offseason, the Heat actively pursued Deng building him up as a suitable replacement for LeBron James - in many ways he was, however his non-flashy style of play turned many off of him as the season progressed.
Now after opting into his contract for the 2015 season, Luol Deng is set to not only improve on last season, but mold one of the NBA's brightest prospects in Justise Winslow.
What Deng brings to the table:
There a few people in the NBA who actually do a good job defending James, and Deng is one of those people. There's no denying the fact that Deng is an elite defender. His ability to guard nearly any position earned him the nickname "one through four" among Heat teammates and previous NBA All-Star and All-NBA Defender honors.
This is arguably the most important of Deng's skills and will likely prove essential in a postseason setting.
Deng thrives in a mid-range style of play, while his athleticism has declined in recent years he is able to find success around the key utilizing his size and pull up jumpers. He also has an underrated post game, (similar to Wade's) when he's in close proximity to the hoop. Deng is also very strong, which is one of the main reasons he is able to finish at the rim with ease as demonstrated by the .gif below.
Additionally, he is often able to strike with the element of surprise when he decides to slash through to the rim, often finishing with a slam or a strong layup in traffic.
Deng has tremendous basketball IQ and part of that comes from his elite ability to spread the floor and create plays.
Where younger basketball players generally crowd the key, Deng is able to read the defense from the wing and wait for the perfect moment to strike. If you watch Deng closely, it almost seems as if at times the defense loses track of him completely, which will remain a strong advantage as long as his long range shooting improves.
Miami has a bright prospect in the form of Winslow and with that they have the perfect mentor with the fellow Dukey. Deng has had a tremendous career and improved consistently by altering parts of his game. He will be able to immediately point Winslow in the right direction and have a hand in his development as the season progresses.
Additionally, Winslow's presence allows for Deng to rest at various times which will be crucial to preserve him in the latter half of the season.
What he could improve on:
Free throw shooting
For a player with such a solid mid-range game it surprises me how poor a free throw shooter Deng is. Last season Deng shot 76% from the free throw line, often faltering at crucial times. A lot of Deng's game revolves around him converting at the line so hopefully he'll be able to improve his free throw shooting prior to the season
Three point shooting
Deng has struggled with consistency from beyond the arc his entire career, and last season was no different. Deng shot a forgettable 35% from three, and it limited his scoring opportunities because of his strong spacing ability.
It seems however that Deng has addressed this issue in the offseason as he was brilliant from long range in the 2015 Africa Game where he scored four threes almost effortlessly.
Luol Deng is a key part of the Miami Heat, and I'm elated that he decided to opt into his contract and stay for another year. He's not the type of player to "wow" with his stat lines, but his defensive presence, strong leadership, and offensive ability is enough to change momentum into Miami's favor. Deng's skill set really delivers in the postseason, and I hope that Miami gives him the opportunity to demonstrate that this year.
Regardless of postseason dreams, Deng will be a player to watch this season for the Heat.