Thibs leaning on Deng even more now

Luol Deng is averaging a career-high 40.8 minutes a game this season. AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

BEVERLY HILLS, Mich. -- Without Derrick Rose and now Richard Hamilton, Tom Thibodeau is relying on Luol Deng more than ever and that's saying something considering how much he has leaned on Deng over the past two seasons.

Deng goes into Friday's game averaging 18.2 points and 7.4 rebounds a game in a career-high 40.8 minutes a night. He's averaging 21.3 points on 51.3 percent shooting in three December games. Even more impressive about Deng's performance this season is that he's become the primary scoring option on a team without Rose and Hamilton.

If he keeps the pace, Deng has a chance at a second straight All-Star nod, a feat that wouldn't surprise Thibodeau.

"Lu has hit a lot of big shots over the last two years prior to this season so this isn't something new," Thibodeau said Friday. "He's carrying a little bit more of a load now, but Lu gives you whatever you need. If you need more scoring he can do that, if you need more defense he can do that, if you need ball movement he does that, movement without the ball he does that, so whatever you need he's going to provide.

"He's a great leader, and he does it consistently every day. He practices hard, he prepares himself well, he takes care of his body, he comes ready, he sets the tone for the team."

As well as Deng and center Joakim Noah have played this season, their teammates have struggled to follow their lead every night.

"We've been trying to do that all year, it takes time," Deng recently said of playing with consistency. "I think we're getting there. The game (Tuesday) night I thought we played great, not towards the end -- we could have made better plays -- but it takes a while. Hopefully we'll get there. We keep striving for it; when you lose it's hard to really see the good stuff you're doing, now when you win it's easier to recognize it."

But with the Bulls struggling to put points on the board, Thibodeau hopes the new parts will begin following Deng's direction even more. The Bulls are averaging just 93 points a game.

"We want to play with more pace," Deng said. "But I think for us the big thing is to strike that balance of fast break, secondary offense, and then your halfcourt sets and then play to your strengths, so we want to have that balance. I think you need to be strong in each of those areas to be efficient offensively so we have a lot of work to do. We want to continue to improve. The big thing is getting the turnovers down and sustaining our spacing."

Deng is convinced that the rest of his teammates, such as veteran Kirk Hinrich, will play better as they get more comfortable in Thibodeau's offense.

"All these guys are going to get better," Deng said. "It's new, they're new to the system, and we still got a lot of games. As long as guys keep getting better that's what it's really about, when the time is (bigger) and we need them."

The last word: "Sometimes it's just circumstance and for years (the Pistons) were dominant. They've sort of gone through a rebuilding phase. They've got some nice young pieces that are coming along well, and they're playing very well at home right now so we have to be ready." -- Thibodeau, on whether a team can get into another team's head over time. The Bulls come into Friday's game with 15 straight wins over the Pistons.