Soaring thanks to boring summer

Tribune staff reporter

If Bulls coach Scott Skiles really got nutty and asked his players to write a "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" term paper at training camp, Luol Deng's would battle for most boring.

• 8 a.m.: Two hours of weights and Pilates with personal trainer Elias Karras, who also works with Bears linebacker Lance Briggs.
• 10:30 a.m.: Yoga.
• Noon: Nap.
• 2 p.m.: Shooting drills at the Berto Center.
• 4 p.m.: Conditioning work.
• 7 p.m.: More shooting drills.

Sure, there were some days off, a trip to Africa for an NBA-sponsored Basketball Without Borders clinic and, of course, meals. But you get the idea of the routine's monotony.

Deng, though, views the routine as beautiful, not boring. Wrist surgery cost him the entire summer of 2005, calling for rehabilitation and precluding preparation. So Deng views his summer vacation as fondly as a lazy high schooler.

"It was so frustrating not to be able to do much after my surgery," Deng said. "I knew last summer was my chance to get stronger and more confident."

The work is paying more dividends than a summer job. Deng, shooting an eye-popping 74.3 percent in the two games since he injured his right shooting wrist and sprained two fingers, now ranks 13th in the league at 53.7 percent.

All his major statistical numbers are career bests, save for a 0.1 drop in rebounding average and an ever-so-slight dip in free-throw percentage. At 18 points per game, he's up almost four points from last season and seems to be gaining more confidence each game.

Rivals aren't surprised.

"When you look at a 6-9 guy with a 7-foot wingspan and with the heart and desire he has, he's going to get better because he has a passion for it," Toronto coach Sam Mitchell said.

"[Bulls assistant] Pete Myers and I are good friends. He said Luol is the type of player you don't have to take to the gym and go in with him. You drop him off and come back two hours later, and you'll know he worked on everything you told him."

Actually, Deng even saved the Bulls gas money on the ride because he was not only active last summer but proactive as well. He took the initiative to establish his routine and is an unofficial team leader in after-hours swipes of his key card to gain entry to the Berto Center.

In a quiet moment last summer, general manager John Paxson seemed excited to see how Deng would respond to training-camp competition from a crowded frontcourt picture. Viktor Khryapa's regular gig on the inactive list is more a byproduct of Deng's play than anything Khryapa did.

"Luol's always been a good pro player," Skiles said. "You get to a point where the game doesn't come easy, but you start to relax out there. He's there.

"He's stepping into his shots. He knows where they're coming from. He's driving when he should drive. He's shooting when he should shoot. Anywhere from 12 to 15 feet, anytime he rises up, you feel like it's in."

Deng has enjoyed some good-natured ribbing from Skiles and his teammates about his injured wrist, which he had wrapped while scoring 25 and a career-high 32 points over the weekend. But the injury has caused Deng to further highlight a major reason for his success this season.

Deng has locked in on the midrange jumper, missing his only two three-point attempts all season. That and an aggressiveness in attacking the basket borne from his summer workouts and 13 extra pounds has aided his soaring field-goal percentage.

"With the wrist injury, I think I focused on my jump shot [Friday in Toronto]," Deng said. "I was so focused on it, I kind of stayed in a rhythm [Saturday]."

Kind of like how Deng stayed in a routine all summer.

Driving force now

Beyond natural maturation and improvement, here's a statistical suggestion as to why Luol Deng's scoring average has risen in each of his three seasons. Simply put, Deng is shooting the three-pointer less and getting to the foul line more.

SEASON        G        3PA        FTA       PTS
2004-05      61        1.9        2.7       11.7         
2005-06      78        1.0        3.5       14.3         
2006-07      31        0.1        4.4       18.0
Per game averages through Sunday

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