When the Los Angeles Lakers handed Luol Deng a four-year contract reportedly worth $72 million last summer, it was one of the most scrutinized deals of the off-season. Would it be an overpay? Would Deng block minutes from Brandon Ingram? Would he be able to play his most effective position from the season before (power forward) in the Lakers’ crowded frontcourt?
The answers to those questions were: “Yes,” “kind of” and “not really.” Deng has already said he wants to “shut up” his critics next season, and while the prior two issues are outside of Deng’s control, he told Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News that if it’s up to him, what position he plays will be managed differently next season.
“In terms of my future,” Deng told Medina, “I would like to play at the 4 more.”
Deng explained that he “struggles” to spot-up and excels more when closer to the basket for rebounds and moving around screens, and the numbers back up his positional preference.
According to 82games.com, Deng played just 13 percent of the Lakers’ total minutes at power forward compared to 23 percent at small forward, despite being far more effective at the former position.
The Lakers were outscored by just 2.1 points per 48 minutes in Deng’s time at the four, which may not seem good given that they were outscored, but that number looks like a rousing success in contrast to the 7.6 points per 48 the team was outscored by when he was on the wing.
Deng also managed an effective field goal percentage of 47.1 percent while playing the four, a notable improvement on the 42.9 percent he managed at the three, all of which would seem to confirm Deng’s desire to play more power forward as a valid one.
Will the Lakers actually play him at power forward more moving forward? It would certainly seem to be the best way to get the most out of their most highly compensated player, but the team’s roster construction makes things complicated.
Both Larry Nance, Jr. and Julius Randle primarily play power forward, and both are promising young players the Lakers would presumably like to continue to develop. Additionally, Lakers Head Coach Luke Walton will most likely want to get a few token minutes here and there for Brandon Ingram at the four in small-ball lineups.
The Lakers’ summer will have to shake out before we start assigning minutes allotments, however. The front office very well could move Deng (making all this moot) or even Nance, Randle or Ingram in some type of deal this offseason.
Whatever they ultimately decide, however, they should make as much of an effort as possible to get Deng some playing time at the four next season if they want to maximize their return on investment from their most expensive asset.