It took awhile, but Luol Deng finally has grown into his frame, talent

SHARE It took awhile, but Luol Deng finally has grown into his frame, talent

Minnesota Timberwolves’ Luke Ridnour, left, fouls Chicago Bulls’ Luol Deng in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Congrats to the Bulls’ Luol Deng for being selected to play in the NBA All-Star Game.

Deng, now in his eighth season, has become a progressively better player, adding three-point shooting, defense, aggressive driving, solid dribbling and selfless teamwork to his skills.

One reason Deng has improved so much: He was 19 and rail-thin when the Bulls drafted him after a single year in college.

Consider him now to have made it through his master’s and to be hard at work on his Ph.D. in hoops.

◆ WITH TWO ALL-STARS – Deng and Derrick Rose – the Bulls have entered rare air. The last time the Bulls had two All-Stars in the same season was in 1997-98, with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Pippen and Jordan first paired up as All-Stars in 1990.

Before that, it was Reggie Theus and Artis Gilmore in 1981. Then it goes back to Bob Love and Chet Walker in 1971 and Guy Rodgers and Jerry Sloan in 1967, the first All-Star pair in Bulls history.

The Bulls never have had three All-Stars in the same season. Hear that, Joakim Noah?

◆ SPEAKING OF JORDAN, you wonder how much he enjoyed the Bulls’ 95-64 destruction of his Charlotte Bobcats on Friday.

He can blame a lot of things, such as injuries, youth and bad coaching, for the Bobcats’ 3-23 record. But to see his team virtually give up in the second half was amazing. Remember, the Bulls were playing without Rose and Rip Hamilton.

Indeed, there has been one consistent thread in all of Jordan’s unsuccessful management ventures with NBA teams. Himself.

◆ IT WAS STUNNING to see U.S. tennis player John Isner upset 16-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer in a Davis Cup match Friday in Switzerland.

Isner, 26, is most famous for his exhausting, longest-in-history victory against Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon in 2010, a marathon match that lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes over three days. But what you notice about Isner is his size. The dude is 6-9 and 245 pounds.

Isner’s serves look like things opponents should have shields to protect themselves against. Remember how batters flinched in terror when Randy Johnson was on the mound and loaded up?

Size isn’t everything in tennis, of course, and most elite male players seem to be a little taller or shorter than 6 feet: Andre Agassi and John McEnroe are 5-11; Federer, Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg and Rafael Nadal are 6-1; Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick are 6-2.

But we have to figure most reasonably coordinated big men get siphoned off to basketball or volleyball at an early age, and we don’t know what the full effect of a great athlete who is really tall could have on tennis.

Ivo Karlovic is the tallest tennis player on the pro circuit at 6-10. He isn’t nearly as agile as his smaller foes and his highest ranking has been No. 14 in the world, but his serve has been clocked at 156 mph. Bee-yay! Control that thing, and how would anybody ever break your serve?

Former French Open champion Yannick Noah is 6-4, by the way. Wonder what his 7-foot kid, Bulls center Joakim, could have done with a tennis racket in his hand and Jimmy Connors’ mom yelling at him from birth.

◆ THE BULLS ARE 23-6. They are 14-5 on the road – the part of the schedule most teams pray is around .500 – yet skeptics abound. Nobody talks about the Bulls as champs-to-be.

Yes, the NBA is messed up this season, with games crammed into a short period, almost no training camp and players on every team injured, exhausted and confused. It’s perfect a nobody/curiosity, such as the Knicks’ Jeremy Lin, would be the rage as this strange season heads toward the All-Star break.

But 23-6, folks. Think about that.

The 1990-91 champion Bulls started 23-10, the 1992-93 champs started 23-10 and the 1997-98 champs started 23-10. All those teams had at least six losses by the time they won their 12th games. The 1997-98 champs began the season 8-6 and were 6-7 on the road after 29 games.

So is it just possible this is a special team, one that might take its momentum right through to the finish line? Maybe it won’t happen. With the Heat, Lakers, Spurs, Thunder and defending champion Mavericks all geared up, it likely won’t happen.

But if it does, wouldn’t it be a pity not to have enjoyed it as it was unfolding?

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