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Advanced Stats Analysis: Luol Deng's Value with the Heat

Marc Roberts

Marc Roberts

Marc F Roberts writes about fantasy basketball for RotoWire. He has won no fantasy awards, but his mom thinks his writing is "fantastic". Hubie Brown is a national treasure.

In the aftermath of LeBron James' decision to return to the Cavaliers, the Heat have done a nice job of team building. They were able bring back five rotational players from last season, including All-Stars Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. In addition, they've added Josh McRoberts, Danny Granger, and Luol Deng. Pat Riley said this of signing Deng, “Signing Luol Deng is one of the most important free agent signings that we have ever had in the history of the franchise."

While that is high praise, it's clear that the Heat won't expect Deng to do everything that James did for the team. However, slotting Deng in at small forward should allow the Heat to continue to play their same style with some level of success.

From a fantasy perspective, Deng failed to meet expectations last season. In the preseason, he was ranked 65th by ESPN/Yahoo but finished the year as the 103rd most valuable fantasy player on a per-game basis:

2013-2014 Stats

MIN

FGA

FG%

FTA

FT%

3PM

REB

AST

STL

BLK

PTS

Auction Value

Fantasy Rank

Luol Deng

35.1

13.7

43%

4.3

79%

0.9

5.7

2.9

1.0

0.1

16.0

$1

103


Deng's fantasy value came mainly from his above-replacement-level production in two categories: points (16.0 ppg), and rebounds (5.7 rpg). Will joining the Heat impact his fantasy value next season? Let's look at how the move will affect his playing time and pace of play to find out.

Pace Impact

Midway through last season, Deng was traded from the Bulls to the Cavs. This table shows the average possessions per game for the Bulls, Cavs, and Heat last season.

Team

Pace

NBA Rank

League Average

93.9

15

Cleveland Cavaliers

93.1

19

Miami Heat

91.2

27

Chicago Bulls

90.2

29


All three teams played at a slower pace than the league average. Deng's “personal pace" for last season (a combination of the pace he played at with the Bulls and Cavs) was 92.0, which is slightly faster than where the Heat played at last season.

For a player like Deng, who averaged 35.1 minutes per game last season, the difference between a pace of 92.0 and 91.2 is minimal, worth about 0.6 possessions per game. That change would have been enough to drop Deng's fantasy rank from 103rd to 106th last season.

Playing Time Impact

The Rotowire depth chart for the Heat has Deng slotted in as the starting small forward, sharing time with Danny Granger. Deng has been a workhorse over the course of his career. Prior to last season, here are the minutes per game that Deng averaged for the Chicago Bulls:

Season

MPG

2009 - 10

37.9

2010 - 11

39.1

2011 - 12

39.4

2012 - 13

38.7


Deng is capable of playing big minutes. The fewest minutes he played during this four-year span was 37.9 mpg. Last season, as the small forward for the Heat, James averaged 37.7 mpg, just a shade less than Deng's averages with the Bulls, but in the same ballpark. This indicates that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is comfortable with that level of playing time for certain players. It's anybody's guess whether Spoelstra plans to limit Deng's minutes next season as he turns 30 years old, but there is no indication in Deng or Spoelstra's history that that will be the case.

I've projected Deng to average 38 mpg next season, although I concede you could make a compelling argument that his average will be anywhere in the range of 36-39 mpg next season. This increase in playing time (from 35.1 mpg last season) would have changed his fantasy rank last season from 106th to 81st.

Projection For Next Season

If we combine Deng's previous seasons on a per-100-possessions basis to develop his projected stats for next season and then adjust that projection for the Heat pace of play and an average playing time of 38 minutes per game (a method I explain in detail here), we get the following projection for Deng next season:

2014-15 Projection

MIN

FGA

FG%

FTA

FT%

3PM

REB

AST

STL

BLK

PTS

Auction Value

Fantasy Rank

Luol Deng

38.0

14.3

44%

4.0

78%

1.0

6.2

2.9

1.0

0.4

16.7

$8

72


This projection would have ranked 72nd last season, a major jump from last season's rank of 103, despite playing at a slightly slower pace with the Heat. This improvement in value mainly comes because of his increase in playing time. However, my projection also has Deng shooting at a better percentage from the field (44% vs. 43% last season). I'd recommend targeting him in the eighth round of 10-team rotisserie league drafts next season.

*Stats used in the articles are from basketball-reference.com.

Do you have an opinion about Luol Deng that you'd like to share? Would you like to know how he would rank at a different level of playing time? Please leave a comment below, or contact me on twitter @MarcFRoberts.

To see the fantasy impact of other players who have changed teams this offseason you can click here to see my archive (for example: LeBron James to the Cavs). I won't be posting an article about players who rank outside of my top 130 in most cases, but I will be tweeting about those players, so please follow me on twitter if you'd like updates on deeper-league players. For example, here is my tweet about Vince Carter: