The Los Angeles Lakers went into last summer’s free agency period looking to upgrade their lineup, and they quickly honed in on veteran forward Luol Deng. The thought was that not only would Deng be able to give them valuable minutes at both forward positions, but he would also serve as an excellent mentor for second overall pick and fellow Duke product Brandon Ingram.
Thus far, Deng hasn’t quite lived up to expectations on the court, putting up modest averages of 6.7 points on 32 percent shooting and 5.7 rebounds. Even though he has struggled with his shot, Deng has still made an impression on the Lakers’ youngsters with his preparation and work ethic. Ingram spoke to Mark Medina of the Orange Country Register about the example that Deng has set with his hard work:
“That’s something I want to buy into and try to have a reputation for myself, just knowing it’s going to be a process,” Ingram said. “At the end of the day when you put the work in, it’s going to pay off.”
Deng’s poor shooting, combined with Ingram’s solid defensive work, has led to coach Luke Walton occasionally closing out games with the rookie at small forward, which most didn’t expect to happen until later in the season. To his credit, Deng has taken his coach’s decisions in stride, demonstrating the professionalism that he is known for around the league:
“I’m committed to be here,” Deng said. “So I have to buy into what’s being done and what Luke wants to do. I have to give the team and Luke the freedom to take it where they see it.”
With four years and $72 million on his deal, Deng will likely finish his career as a Laker. With Los Angeles committed to building around youngsters, his mentorship will help ensure that the team’s potential is realized.
Eventually, Deng’s shot will come around and his on-court production will pick up, but until then, he is making a difference in ways that don’t show up in the box score.