Luol Deng joined the Cleveland Cavaliers just in time for a four-game Western Conference road trip, which ends tonight in Denver. The Cavaliers have gone 2-2 so far, a stellar mark for a team that was 12-23 prior.
Deng is clearly finding his stride offensively. In the last two games, a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers and a win over the Los Angeles Lakers, he’s scored 25 points (on 10-of-20 shooting) and 27 points (on 9-of-15 shooting, including 5-for-5 on 3-pointers).
But Deng, so far, is living up to only half of his reputation for being a strong two-way player.
The surprise is that Deng says he’s struggling defensively, which has long been considered his strength.
“I’m making a lot of mistakes,” Deng said. “People who don’t know the system might not notice it, but there’s a couple rotations I’m putting the team in bad situations because I’m not used to it.”
Earl Clark and Alonzo Gee, the Cavaliers’ previous starting small forwards, are solid defenders. So, Deng wasn’t acquired to solve defensive issues – though he also wasn’t expected to hurt Cleveland’s defense, either.
The Cavaliers have allowed 105.5 points per 100 possessions with Deng on the floor, more than the 103.8 they’ve allowed for the season. But as Deng learns the system, that disparity should vanish. Four games is not cause for concern – especially when Deng has helped overall.
Deng is a huge offensive upgrade, more than making up for his temporary defensive deficiencies with his offense. When Deng plays, the Cavaliers score 106.1 points per possession compared to 97.9 for the season.
That will certainly buy Deng minutes to work through his defensive issues.