First-time All-Star Deng appreciative of honor

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First-time All-Star Deng appreciative of honor

CHARLOTTE Just sat there like its a regular thing, said Luol Deng, though his smirk betrayed his even tone. It happens every day.

Never one to be consumed with individual accolades, Deng said all the right things about debut All-Star Game selection, deflecting the credit to his teammates and coaches, reasoning that it just wasnt his time in past seasons. But all along, it was obvious that he was nearly bursting at the seams with pride.

Its a great honor. Im really happy. Its good to see. I dont really have the words for it, except the fact that Im really happy. I just want to go around and thank all my teammates because of the way were playing and the record we have is why Im getting the opportunity, he explained prior to the Bulls Friday-morning shootaround at Time Warner Cable Arena. I think you get a certain feeling that youre going to make it. I had a feeling, I dont know why. I was still surprised to see it. Youre sitting there, youre watching it and youre just kind of relieved a little bit that you made it. But this year kind of felt different going into it. I think theres a few years that Ive watched it that I thought that I might get in, but this year, for some reason, I just thought it was going to happen.

Honestly and I dont want to go too much into it; dont get me wrong, its an honor and its a great accomplishment theres years in the past, where I felt like I played like an All-Star, but maybe some guys had a better year that year and made it over me. Its good to see. Its really been an up-and-down kind of career and to be there, a lot of people would see it as your best year. Thats just the way people see it because of the credit that you gain and I really think Im having a great year. I think its one of the best years that I had.

Statistically, that might not be the case, as Deng has put up gaudier numbers than he has this campaign. But now, with the Bulls recognized as a true title contender, while much of the spotlight falls on reigning league MVP Derrick Rose, Deng is finally getting the appreciation he deserves.

Its a great honor for him. Hes certainly earned it, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau who might be joining Deng and Rose in Orlando for the event, though he typically downplayed that notion, saying, I dont even think about it. Im just thinking about us being ready to play Charlotte when asked about the possibility. I thought it would happen. The one thing about Lu, if you really look at his career, I think each year that hes been in the league, hes gotten better and better, and I think thats a sign of how serious he is, how he approaches the game and hes obviously a very well-rounded player. Theres not anything that he doesnt do well and obviously hes very significant for us, in terms of us winning.

I think that he certainly had a great year last year. I think this year he picked up right where he left off. If you look at his entire career, each year hes gotten better and better, so his experience, the way he studies, the way he prepares for each season, it lends itself to improvement and hes one of those guys who I think will continually get better throughout his career, and for us hes invaluable. Theres so many intangibles that he brings to our team unselfishness, hard work, cares about nothing but winning and how he can help and hes a great teammate, hes very coachable and theres nothing that he doesnt do well. He plays great defense, he moves without the ball, he shares the ball, he can hit threes, he can put in on the floor, he slashes, he can post. But its his leadership, its the way he approaches things every day, the example he sets. You cant say enough about him, he went on to say. Its great. I think its a byproduct of winning. We have a couple other guys who are deserving, as well, and hopefully the more you win, the more recognition the team receives.

Added Deng himself: It depends, really, from who. It depends who youre talking about. I think, to be a coach in this league, youve got to know the game and I think everyone has their own opinion. Coaches select every year and I think coaches appreciate what I do, and the way I play. I think maybe in the past years, whether its team record or some other guys had a better year, maybe thats the reason Im left out, but I always get a lot of compliments and talking to a lot of coaches around the league who appreciate the way I play, and to me, my coaching staff, my teammates and those who know the game, I think they see it. Im not so much caught up in people who dont know the game, who just want to see the flashiness.

Deng joked that he wouldnt reveal when or how he learned of the honor he said he found out from watching it on television, like everybody else, though people he trusted, wouldnt really joke about certain things if they dont know, indicated he would make the East team as well as his immediate reaction to it, but after raising his expectations in previous seasons only to be disappointed, he now finds himself having to figure out what to do while in Orlando, as he hasnt participated in an All-Star event since the second season of his career, when he played in the Rookie-Sophomore Game.

I think Im going to talk to Derrick about that, honestly. Since my rookie year, my sophomore year, which is way different, I dont know what youre supposed to do, I dont know how it goes, quipped Deng, who also joked that hopefully I wont get a breakaway layup, as hes not known for the high-flying aerial acrobatics that fans have come to expect in All-Star contests. Its the honest truth. I really dont know. Ill find out the schedule. Am I supposed to play D? I dont know. Well just see how it goes.

One thing is for sure: Deng, if Thibodeau is indeed coaching, is unlikely to play the high-minute totals he does for the Bulls.

I doubt it, he laughed. Coach is big on rest, so well use that right.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

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The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

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