Luol Deng, 28 years old, represents a tremendous upgrade at small forward for the 11-23 Cavs. He’s a back-to-back All-Star scoring the most points in his career this season. He’ll take away minutes from Alonzo Gee et al in the team’s rotation. While the future ramifications of this move are up in the air, here are my four favorite statistic-based notes when it comes to showing Deng’s worth and his value with this team.
1. Cavs SFs have a 9.2 PER this season. Yes, that’s astoundingly correct, per the mathematical minds at 82Games.com. As you may recall, PER is normalized to be an average of 15.0 for all NBA players, not position-adjusted. On the season, Alonzo Gee has a 6.3 mark in 564 minutes and Earl Clark is at 9.7 in 551 minutes. I’m not a huge fan of PER, but at the extremes, I think it tells a pretty decent story: Gee is a near-replacement level player and Clark is a below average starter. Luol Deng has a 15.9 career PER and is at 17.4 this year; more than Gee and Clark combined and clearly a valuable starter in the NBA. He has a far higher usage than either Gee or Clark, inflating his numbers, but is undoubtedly a far better all-around player.
2. Deng can actually score inside. As usual, here are the exact details of Deng’s shooting ratios:
— Jacob Rosen (@WFNYJacob) January 7, 2014
This season, he’s shooting 49.0% on twos and 27.4% on threes. In the previous three years, it was 46.8% on twos and 34.4% on threes. So things are different. But the two main points to make: A) The bulk of Deng’s value comes from his inside scoring, where, at 66%, he’d be by far the best Cavalier. The average NBA team shoots 60%; the Cavs are at a historically bad 51%. B) He’s shooting 10% fewer three-pointers this season, while taking more shots, hence fairly equal shooting efficiency overall. He’s been the focal point of the Bulls offense and creating more for himself. It’ll be interesting to note how these items potentially shift again playing alongside Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters.
3. Maybe we’ll see fewer three-guard lineups. Thus far this season, the Cavs have played 435 minutes (26% of play) with those notorious three-small guard lineups including a combination of Dellavedova, Irving, Jack and/or Waiters. Overall, they actually have a +1.9 differential per 48 minutes, compared to -8.3 for all other lineups. But it’s not sustainable long-term to have Waiters or Jack playing the 3 for important stretches of NBA games. That’s what Mike Brown has been forced to do with no legitimate starting small forward. Deng immediately can come in and play at the very least 30-35 minutes per game. We’ve seen the vast majority of these small-ball minutes over the past month; they’ll likely mostly disappear now.
4. Deng probably becomes Cleveland’s second-best player. Offensively, I’ve noted last week that the Cavs don’t have a single rotation player shooting at even average efficiency. Deng is close with a .482 efg, but his all-around play – notably, career 11.8 free throw attempts and 6.4 rebounds per 36 minutes – probably makes him the No. 2 option on the team. Anderson Varejao is 31 and his minutes should be kept under 30 per game. Deng has averaged over 3,050 minutes including playoffs the previous four years. His ability to actually score inside could open up further perimeter opportunities for fellow wings. His passing could help the transition game. His defense and veteran presence could ultimately provide a much-needed boost for a bad, bad basketball team.
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