"Lu's just kind of a safety net," Bulls guard Kyle Korver explained. "He kind of does everything. He's a great on-ball defender. He gets rebounds. We don't run a ton of plays for him, but he always ends up with the ball. He makes really good decisions. He just kind of covers everything. The way he's able to play that many minutes and still play at a high level, it's a real tribute to him. He's playing at an All-Star level this year for sure."
After sitting out the past two weeks because of a torn ligament in his wrist, Deng made an impressive return to the lineup on Saturday, scoring 21 points, grabbing nine rebounds and playing a team-high 41 minutes in the Bulls’ 113-90 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Given how much Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau trusts Deng on the floor, even the most ardent Bulls fan shouldn't be that surprised.
"He was great," Thibodeau said. "You can't say enough about him. He stays in great shape, got out there, he did everything. Played defense, rebounded the ball, made shots, made plays, made us function well as a team. Moved great without the ball. Very encouraging."
Did Thibodeau have any hesitation playing Deng for such a large amount of minutes in his first game back?
"I watch him every day. I see what he does in terms of his conditioning and what he's been doing on the court," Thibodeau said. "I didn't know how he would handle all the contact. Three-on-three is a lot different than an NBA game. So you don't know from a conditioning standpoint if he's going to handle that or if he's going to have any problems with his wrist. But he said he felt great. Once he showed he could handle it, we just got back to normal rotation."
For his part, Deng repeatedly said he felt "great" after the game, even if the huge ice pack on his left wrist told a different story.
"I'm going to continue everything the same," he said. "Every practice, I'm going to practice. I'm just going to forget about it. I'm playing, so I don't even want to keep talking about it. I just want to just play. As long as I'm playing, I’m fine."
Deng admitted being a little hesitant on the floor, but he mostly sounded like a man who was just relieved to get the first game behind him. He knows that surgery is still an option, but he wants to do everything can to stay on the floor for the rest of the year.
"It's been day to day," Deng said. "I was going to play when we were in New York. But if I played in New York, it wasn't even -- today's two weeks. I was told 4-6 weeks. To rest it for four weeks and then come back. I knew when I had the injury, the way it felt, that I could recover quick and when we were in New York, I was going to play, but it got sore."
His teammates were just happy to see one of their leaders back on the floor. Deng spoke up in huddles countless times during the night, giving his teammates guidance when they needed it.
"He's Lu, man," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said. "When he comes back, he plays with a lot of energy. Whenever he steps on the court, we can count on him every single night. Consistent, works hard, playing defense, rebounding the ball. He does a lot for our team."
Deng knows that he is just going to have to deal with the pain as it comes along, but he took the first step towards getting back on his feet on Saturday night and it was definitely a good one.
"I know there's going to be a little [difference]," he said. "There's going to be nights that's tougher than others. But when I had the injury, I knew right away that it would be fine, because I had it before, and this time it's in my other hand."