Signs of Life
It's been nice to see Deng once again begin to resemble the player who I was once so excited by. (Seems like eons ago.) And it's not just the increase in his scoring; He's been getting to the line almost five times a game this month; he'd previously only been getting there around 3. His rebounding this month has skyrocketed to 8 per game, up from a meager five. And he's been active in passing lanes defensively, nearly doubling his steals this month to almost 2 per game. (Although perhaps this is a mixed blessing; it seemed to me that, at least in the 2nd quarter of the Minnesota game, Rodney Carney was abusing Deng with back cuts to the rim; that stretch might've very well cost the Bulls that game.) Nevertheless, this is the player the Bulls were expecting when they shelled out $70-plus mil. this summer; If Deng can maintain this level of play for the rest of the season, I'll be feeling a lot better about that extension.
But the bigger treat during this recent stretch has been Joakim. Over the past six games, Noah is nearly averaging a double-double, with 9.5 ppg (on 62.5% shooting) and 9.3 rbg, while blocking more than 3 shots a game. (Although those blocks, too, can be a mixed blessing, as KD astutely pointed out the other day.) Take away the Toronto game (where Noah did most truly and profoundly shit the bed) and his numbers over this stretch would be even better.
What's the difference? Well, certainly he's probably finally in game shape at this point (and let's hope he's learned his lesson about staying in shape in the off-season). But the real difference is minutes. When Noah plays around 25 minutes or more (and he's been around 30 in this recent stretch), he is a perfectly adequate and productive NBA center. Period. Indeed, compare him against Drew Gooden at the position, and you find that Noah is almost as productive and that the opposing team's centers are considerably less so against Noah than Gooden. On that front, it'll be interesting to watch tonight's matchup with Shaq. For all the manhandling Noah might receive on the defensive end, he should be able to offset much of that if he runs the floor like he did against the Kings last night.
One last thing: I thought this quote from Orlando GM Otis Smith w/r/t Jameer Nelson was interesting: "I always said: 'Name me 10 guys that are better.'" Something to keep in mind with Ben Gordon. I'd say Kobe, Wade, Roy, Ginobli and Joe Johnson, for sure. Some older cats (Ray Allen, Vince, Rip) might be somewhat more productive, but they'll be declining soon. You've got some dudes who might be more productive, but have injury history (Monta, Kevin Martin, Michael Redd). Mayo might be, but he's not there yet. In any event, I'd say it's certainly arguable Gordon's one of the top 10 SGs in the NBA. As far as our position players go, you can say that about Rose and...anyone else?