Im never going to admit it, man, Luol Deng told CSNChicago.com after Sundays Bulls overtime win at Detroit. Weve got a lot of guys, weve got depth. I think were going to start using our depth now.After playing nearly 45 minutes -- and scoring only two points, though he limited Pistons counterpart Tayshaun Princes scoring, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out four assists -- Deng looked exhausted, as usual. Additionally, he suffered an injury to his ribs after taking a shot from Pistons guard Ben Gordon, a former teammate, as first reported by the Chicago Tribune.However, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau argued that while Deng currently leads the league in minutes per game, the fact that hes missed time with a torn ligament in his left wrist -- a factor in his up-and-down shooting nights -- means he hasnt had as much wear and tear as one might expect.If you studied his total minutes, you would see that hes had plenty of rest this year. If you compare his total minutes for the season, dont forget hes missed nine games this season, so its not a guy thats piled up a ton of minutes, said a testy Thibodeau about the All-Star, who ranks 20th in the league in total minutes entering Monday. Its a valid question. I think for him, he knew this is what it would be like. Some days, its better than others. He still helps us a lot when hes not scoring. He does so many other things, whether hes rebounding the ball or he creates space. When hes on the floor, theyre not leaving him, so theres more space for Derrick to operate. I think that three-point shot is huge. Well see how it goes. Hes getting time off in practice. Maybe we should have him practice and give him the games off, I dont know.Deng is almost like a safety blanket to Thibodeau because of his versatility, so even on the nights on which he doesnt produce much scoring -- Im not just out there for my defense, Deng bristled -- his versatility and the mere threat of his varied offensive game helps the Bulls.Thibodeau explained: Thats the value of him. Hes on a primary scorer every night, so hes such a big part of our defense, I know theres going to be nights when hes not shooting well. Im good with that because of his rebounding, his defense and his ability to shoot the three. Even when hes not shooting well, theyre not leaving him, so his man is going to be out of the paint and thats what Derrick needs. Derrick needs space. Luol has shown hes more than capable of hitting that big three, even on nights hes not shooting well. You leave him open, hes a clutch shooter. Hes going to make those.
The Bulls kick off their 2016-17 season Thursday night against the Celtics.
Here are five things to watch for tonight. And don't forget to tune in to CSN on Saturday night as the Bulls host Paul George and Indiana Pacers.
1. The Three Alphas debut
Each of the Bulls' starting guards had their moments during the preseason, but it's admittedly tough to get a read on how well they'll perform when the games mean something. While it won't be entirely fair to judge them on one game - especially against a stellar defensive team in Boston - how the three players interchange with each other will say plenty. Watch for the way they share the basketball, who initiates the offense and, when one gets hot, if the other two don't mind taking a backseat for a handful of possessions.
2. Who takes the reins at power forward?
Fred Hoiberg said that Taj Gibson will get the start against the Celtics, and it's well deserved after his impressive preseason. Gibson is as rock solid and consistent on both ends as they come, but the reality is if the Bulls are going to be successful this year one of Nikola Mirotic or Bobby Portis will need to make a jump forward. The Celtics deploy postman Amir Johnson and stretch forward Jonas Jerebko at the 4, so Brad Stevens will give the Bulls multiple looks that they'll need to counter with the combination of Gibson/Mirotic/Portis.
3. Running of the Bulls
The Bulls are naturally going to push pace with a great initiator in Rondo and two excellent finishers in Butler and Wade. The Celtics played at home against the Nets last night, and four days into the season they're already playing their first back-to-back. It will be interesting to see if Hoiberg and the Bulls put an emphasis on pushing pace against a Celtics team that played 24 hours earlier.
4. How much will Denzel Valentine play?
The Bulls' rookie really only has one real practice under his belt, but he says he feels good enough that he'll suit up Thursday night. In most situations he wouldn't expect to see much playing time, if any. But the Celtics go 10 deep - 10 players played at least 15 minutes and scored eight points - and that may cause Hoiberg to go deeper into his bench than usual.
5. Fred Hoiberg's debut: Pt. II
Fred Hoiberg began his coaching career with a victory over the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers. The rest of the season didn't go as planned, but with a fresh roster and a year of experience under his belt he'll get another chance to show what he can do. He'll have to balance the Three Alphas, figure out the power forward spot and determine how his second unit works best together. And as far as tonight goes, he'll need to do it against one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens. There's plenty of time to evaluate Hoiberg, but a victory in Game 1 would be another good start for him and the Bulls.
According to CSN Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill, the Bulls are exploring signing former Celtics shooting guard R.J. Hunter.
The Bulls currently have one open roster spot.
Hunter, a first-round pick of the Celtics in 2015, appeared in 38 games as a rookie. He struggled from the field, shooting just 36.7 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from deep. He ultimately lost out on a roster spot this preseason in a crowded Celtics backcourt.
Hunter was the darling of the 2015 NCAA Tournament playing for his father at Georgia State. Hunter hit a game-winning 3-pointer against Baylor to propel the 14th-seeded Panthers to an opening-round win.
Hunter was a two-time Sun Belt Player of the Year, averaging 19.7 points per game as a junior.
The Bulls open their 2016-17 season tomorrow night against the Celtics.
Stay with CSNChicago.com for more updates on this story.