Will the Miami Heat Compete With Luol Deng?
After turning down a three-year $30 million extension with the Bulls this past season, Luol Deng signed a two-year deal with the Miami Heat for $20 million. With LeBron James now in Cleveland, Deng has to take on the impossible task of filling the departed shoes of the King. The 29-year-old has been an excellent player for the Bulls over the last 10 seasons, but with a lot of miles on his tires, can he start to make Miami forget about their hard breakup?
Even though they play the same position, James and Deng’s styles of play are very different. The Heat completely and rightfully ran all of their offense through James last season, and if they weren’t running it through him, he was initiating the offense with the ball in his hands. While Deng is an adequate scorer, his career Offensive Rating of 107 (Estimated points produced per 100 possessions) is far from James’ 116. Deng isn't the ball-handler and passer that LeBron is, either, as he only has an 11.8% career assist percentage (estimate of the amount of field goals he assisted on) compared to LeBron’s 34.2%.
Deng is much more comfortable playing off the ball. He comes off screens well, and he's an above average spot-up shooter. He can’t create his own shot like LeBron, however with the right ball handler on his side, he could play very well next to the newly re-signed Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. While he may not be able to replace the same efficient scoring as the world’s number one player, Deng can provide a King-like effort on defense.
On the defensive end, Deng’s numbers are actually pretty comparable to James. Deng has a better Defensive Rating over his career than James, (104-102) and is a solid on or off-ball defender. He's a legitimate 6’9'' with a wingspan of seven feet, and if LeBron is the best defender from the small forward position, Deng isn’t far behind him.
While he isn’t going to give you the insane steal and block numbers that Lebron can provide, Deng is 26th among active players in career Defensive Win Shares, which is above Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, and the reining Defensive Player of the Year, Joakim Noah.
Reinventing Miami’s Band
If LeBron was the lead singer and guitar player of the Heat, even though he has moved onto a new gig, Miami was able to retain the bass and drum players. Bosh used Miami’s newly found cap space as leverage to get a five-year max contract from the Heat. Wade quickly followed with a multi-year deal reportedly worth around $16 million per season, and even though that’s a lot less than the $40 million he opted out of over the next two seasons, it’s a lot more than he would have received on the open market. Miami also brought back Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem and Chris Anderson.
With basically everyone except LeBron returning to the Heat next season, Deng is the only big new part the Heat will need to integrate this season. However, without LeBron, a lot of questions arise on the offensive end. The bulk of the ball handling will now likely run through Wade’s hands. However with Wade regularly not playing in back to back games, the situation is cloudy from there.
Assuming Wade is running the offense and Chalmers is used as a corner spot-up shooter, this makes integrating Deng pretty streamline. He can run off screens from Bosh and newly signedJosh McRoberts, and he can spot up in the opposite corner from Chalmers as well. But unless Bosh is going to be used more as a post up threat with the acquisition of McRoberts, it seems like the Heat may have the same exact problem they had with Lebron.
Miami ranked 24th in the NBA last season in defensive rebounding percentage. Now, without LeBron, they're bound to regress in that area as well - teams are going to have even more opportunities to get offensive boards against the Heat.
While Deng may bring the Heat some of the same defense that LeBron gave Miami, the Heat are going to have to seriously revamp their offensive game plans in order to survive. Every player on their team is going to have to shoulder some of the offensive load left by LeBron, and while it may hurt some of the values of certain Heat players, it might drastically increase the value of a select few in Miami.
Big Bosh Man
If we see more nights where Wade is a DNP-Old, Bosh is going to have to shoulder a ton of the offensive load with no LeBron in town. However that may do wonders for his rapidly declining usage in Miami. In his best season with the Raptors, (coincidently it was his final year north of the border) Bosh averaged 24 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. He had a true shooting percentage of .592, and his usage rate was a career high 28.7.
While he probably won’t replicate those numbers now north of 30 years old, Bosh could very well get close to putting up Toronto-Bosh numbers. Last season his usage rate was his lowest since the 2004-2005 season, and you have to think that on nights where Wade sits out, Bosh is going to have to hoist more than 20 shots if the Heat want to win.
Either way you slice it, the best-case scenario for this year’s version of the Heat is a second-round exit from the playoffs. Teams with size and depth are going to eat them alive, and they no longer have the league’s best player to bail them out when things don’t go right. They’ll still be a strong defensive team, but assuming Wade is no more healthy than he was in 2013-2014, the Heat are likely not contenders in the East as is.