Minnesota Timberwolves Player Review: Luol Deng

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 25: Luol Deng #9 of the Minnesota Timberwolves . Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 25: Luol Deng #9 of the Minnesota Timberwolves . Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Luol Deng barely played for the Minnesota Timberwolves at the start of the year, became a rotation regular, and finished the season inactive with an injury.

Heading into the season, it certainly seemed unlikely that Luol Deng, who was the final signing of the offseason, would see any playing time whatsoever.

Indeed, Deng only appeared in four of the Minnesota Timberwolves‘ first 42 games, and all in games that were decided by 27 points or more. Ironically, by the time that Deng became a part of the regular rotation, it was after his former boss, head coach Tom Thibodeau, had already been fired.

On Jan. 12, Deng played four minutes in a close win over New Orleans. Then, he played 15 minutes the next night in a blowout. After one DNP-CD, Deng played in the next 16 games in a row before coming down with a foot injury that held hm out for the remainder of the season.

After having played in just a single game for the Lakers in 2017-18, it was a fair assumption that Deng simply had nothing left in the tank. And sure, he isn’t much more than a small-ball power forward or an oversized small forward that can only handle certain matchups, but he did prove himself to be a viable rotation player moving forward.

Deng played north of 20 minutes nine times, including three consecutive games in which he played 30 minutes or more. During the stretch in which Deng was playing regularly, the team went 8-8 and defeated the likes of the Clippers and the Rockets, both playoff teams in the Western Conference.

Deng scored in double figures seven times and averaged 7.1 points and 3.3 rebounds per game on the season. He shot 50 percent from the floor and 31.8 percent from beyond the arc.

Realistically, Deng is will be best used as a ninth or 10th man moving forward, spelling the regular rotation players at the 3 and the 4 depending on matchups and foul trouble. He can still play, however, and can guard at least two positions while shooting mid-range jumpers at a decent clip.

Deng’s most valuable contribution in the future will be as a team defender and an intelligent cog in the offense. Despite a mediocre 3-point shot and an inability to score over defenders at this stage in his career, Deng was still able to score a little bit, and the Wolves’ defense was definitely better with him on the court.

It would still be a bit surprising to see Deng land more than a veteran’s minimum contract next year. There’s no reason to think he’d pick returning to Minnesota over any other team, although perhaps he’ll show some loyalty to interim head coach Ryan Saunders’ willingness to insert the veteran into the rotation midway through the season.

Deng will be 34 years old next season, but he absolutely has another year or two left in him if he’s in the right situation, isn’t overused, and doesn’t come down with more injury issues.

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Whether it’s in Minnesota or elsewhere, Deng will be contributing to an NBA squad come fall of 2019.