A Prelude with Greatness
“Kobe didn’t know all the names but he was wondering. Kobe was completely passionate about basketball, a student of the game. [Kobe] asked me and I answered about the players. He fell in love with Gabriel Deck. [Kobe] even looked at me strangely a couple of times because he couldn’t believe what [Deck] was doing. I told Deck after that he had a fan in Kobe and that [Kobe] wanted to take him to the Lakers.”– From the Hola Que Tal Como Estas Podcast translation by Eurohoops
An Unconventional Solution
For the first time in a long time, the Chicago Bulls have had a busy offseason. The Bulls have made many positive changes, but these changes have had one major downside. Players that are no longer on the Bulls’ roster played 75% of the teams total minutes at power forward last season.
The modern NBA is defined by its stars and in the quest to win a title, those stars are surrounded by a cast of role players. These role players can often be the difference between winning and losing come playoff time. In a team’s journey to find the best role players, they often look for proven archetypes. A good 3-and-D player on the wing, a big man who can protect the rim, or a sharpshooting floor spacer are archetypes that come to mind. This can often lead to players who don’t match one of these archetypes being undervalued by teams.
With the Bulls in need of depth at the power forward spot, I wanted to talk about an option that interests me. Despite not being the best shooter or defender that the Bulls can get, he’s someone worth considering. If a flashy passing, microwave scoring 6-foot-8 forward sounds interesting, you might want to familiarize yourself with Argentine power forward Gabriel “El Tortu” Deck.
Who the Deck is That
Born in Colonia Dora, Argentina, Gabriel Deck is a 26-year-old power forward. Deck stands 6’8″, with a seven-foot wingspan, and weighs a little over 230 pounds.
In 2011, Deck attended the Basketball Without Borders camp in Rio De Janeiro and was named the camp’s MVP. This earned Deck a chance with the Argentinian team at FIBA’s U17 World Championship in 2012.
The tournament was littered with future lottery picks such as Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor, Mario Hezonja, and Dante Exum. However, it was Deck who was the tournament’s leading scorer with 21.5 points per game. This performance earned Deck the final spot on the All-Tournament Team alongside the four future lottery picks.
When Deck entered the 2017 NBA draft, he was still playing in the smaller Argentinian professional league, and as a result went undrafted. But in 2018, his contract was bought out by Real Madrid. From 2018 to 2021, Deck was a key player for multiple deep runs in the EuroLeague playoffs.
On April 21, 2021, the Oklahoma City Thunder brought Deck over from Europe to play in the NBA. The move went under the radar as the Thunder were tanking at that point, but Deck played 10 NBA games this past season.
Gabriel Deck’s Impressive Company
Deck played 21 minutes per game in his brief NBA debut and averaged 8.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.4 assists on 48% shooting. While those numbers don’t jump off the page, they actually put him in some impressive company.
Here is a fun search filter: weight >230 pounds, >8.0 points per game, >2.0 assists per game, <1.0 turnovers per game. The goal is to find players big enough to defend in the post, who are smart decision makers, and willing passers, but also score enough to not be an offensive liability. The search turns up four players. Al Horford, Jae Crowder, Nicolas Batum, and Gabriel Deck. With the Bulls looking for playoff caliber power forward depth, that’s a good list to be a part of.
While Deck isn’t the best 3-point shooter or defender available, he’s still capable in both areas. Since 2020, Deck has played 135 games between his time at Real Madrid and with the Oklahoma City Thunder. In those 135 games, Deck shot 60-for-166 (36.1%) from 3-point range. Promisingly, Deck shot 41.4% from three during the recent 2021 EuroLeague season.
In 2020, Real Madrid ranked fifth in the EuroLeague with a defensive rating of 94.2. That said, when Deck was on the court that number improved to 90.9 (lower is better, it means giving up less points).
Gabriel Deck is both a solid defender and a serviceable 3-point shooter, but if you only focus on those things he doesn’t stand out. It’s the other skills that Deck offers which make him such a special player.
Fitting the Arturas Karnisovas Mold
It’s no secret that Chicago Bulls’ executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas has a type. With the additions of Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic, the Bulls are collecting smart decision makers who are willing and skilled passers. That model of sound decision makers with passing ability fits Deck perfectly. In addition, with Karnisovas’ bias towards overseas players, Deck’s time in the EuroLeague certainly helps.
Above, Deck passes off the ball, and then relocates himself to be open along the 3-point line. His teammate misses the shot, but Isaiah Roby contests the rebound and the ball comes loose. Deck manages to pick it up, and drives at the defenders. With both defenders in the air, he throws a behind the back pass for an easy assist. This was Deck’s first NBA assist and it certainly wouldn’t be the last time he showed off his flashy passing.
Here, Deck makes a cut to the rim, and has both the awareness and skill to find this behind the back pass to an open teammate.
“El Tortu” certainly isn’t afraid of contact. Here, he attacks the basket and fights for a trio of offensive rebounds. As if nothing ever happened, he then fires a no-look pass to the open shooter in the corner.
It doesn’t always have to be flashy passing either. Deck’s combination of passing ability and quick-fire decision making enable him to be a simple connector at times. Through Deck, the offense can quickly switch the ball and catch opposing defenses off guard.
Deck intertwines his passing ability with every aspect of his game. No matter where you ask Gabriel Deck to play, he’s constantly finding open shots for his teammates.
One thing NBA teams try to add to their benches are microwave scorers. This type of player that can quickly get hot and provide instant offense. Gabriel Deck certainly qualifies as one. He proved as much by scoring 16 points in 16 minutes against the Kings, and 18 points in 26 minutes against the Jazz.
Deck scores in a variety of ways, and if he can get any of them going he can quickly become a challenge to stop. In addition, with the Bulls losing Thad Young and Lauri Markkanen, the bench unit is in need of scoring punch. Deck can provide that.
The (Tortu)ure Chamber
Deck’s favorite way to score is a homage to the European style of play. It’s uncommon for modern NBA players to use the mid-post area. However, Gabriel Deck executing his collection of moves and counters is extremely fun to watch.
Using his body as both a battering ram to move the defender and a wall to prevent the defense from stealing the ball, Deck backs his defender all the way from the 3-point line to the paint. As soon as he gets one foot in the paint he forces his way around Terence Davis for an easy hook shot.
A few nights later, Deck again finds himself matched up on Terence Davis. However this time, Davis isn’t going to allow Deck to back him down. Davis stands strong ready to hold his ground… and within a second El Tortu spins to his left for a wide open layup.
Deck played the Warriors on back-to-back nights during his NBA debut tour. The Warriors got sick of his shit about five minutes into the first game and started double-teaming him as soon as he turned his back to the basket. However, this just allows Deck to do what he does best, as he threads an unbelievable pass through the entire defense.
Sometimes Deck just scored on the double teams anyways…
Deck’s Diverse Scoring Diet
While his mid-post game is fantastic, it’s just one of the many scoring tools Gabriel Deck has in his arsenal. Deck also has the ability to knock down three’s when needed, create shots for himself off the dribble, and attack the basket on downhill drives. All of this scoring is underlined by a sublime ability to draw fouls, which gets Deck to the free throw line A LOT.
Here he gets matched up with Dario Saric. He brings himself to a stop then quickly shifts to his right and blows by Saric. Whether initiating offense or attacking close-outs, Deck’s constantly a threat to attack the basket.
Deck’s nickname of “the turtle” is false advertising. Unlike a turtle, he is an absolutely rapid runner. This leads to him constantly outpacing entire teams in transition for easy buckets. Here, Deck starts in the corner but quickly turns on the jets to get behind the entire Indiana Pacers’ defense.
He also shows the ability to generate space between himself and defenders. This enables him to generate open shots for himself when matched up on weaker defenders. Cconsidering the Bulls will often have scoring threats like LaVine, DeRozan, and Vucevic on the court, Deck will often find himself matched up against the opposing team’s fourth- or fifth-best defender.
The Bulls ranked 30th last season in free throws attempted. Gabriel Deck’s 4.9 free throw attempts per 100 possessions would rank him third on the team behind only Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan.
The (De)X Factor
It’s hard to statistically measure good decision making. Deck’s low turnover numbers would lead one to think he’s a sound decision maker, but it’s something that has to be observed. He often strings together rapid-fire sequences of correct decision after correct decision. While watching his tape, I started referring to these positive decision strings as The Dex Factor. It’s not really a quantifiable thing, but when watching him play, these decision making sequences become extremely apparent.
Here, Deck reads a Chris Paul pass and steals the ball. He notices the fast break is a disadvantageous 4-on-3 and waits for his teammates to arrive. He gets the ball back and notices Chris Paul overplaying the passing lane. Deck throws in a pass-fake which sends CP3 flying past him. Deck then begins driving to the rim, and just as Deandre Ayton begins to switch on to Deck, he fires a no-look pass to his big man for the easy bucket.
He doesn’t have to touch the ball to have this effect either. Here, Deck’s defender leaves him to go help elsewhere. So, Deck decides to cut towards the basket which pulls in another defender. OKC is able to get the ball back out to the perimeter and the extra man that Deck’s cut drew in now desperately tries to recover to the open shooter. This makes it easy for Deck’s teammate to blow past the defender on his way to the basket. Then, the driver finds who else, but Gabriel Deck wide open after relocating himself to the empty space around the basket.
Deck on the Defensive End
Gabriel Deck isn’t going to win any awards for his defense, but he is certainly far from a liability. Like I mentioned before, Real Madrid was one of the best defensive teams in Europe, and that defense was even better when Deck was on the floor. The modern power forward is required to show versatility on the defensive end. In Gabriel Deck’s time in the NBA, he showcased the strength to fight down low, and the quickness to hold his own on the perimeter.
Here, Deck takes contact from the opposing center, but is too strong to be taken advantage of.
When he knows he’s guarding someone bigger than him, he does a great job of using his seven-foot wingspan to contest entry passes. This leads to Deck often tipping these passes or forcing opponents to pick up their dribble.
Deck does a solid job of staying in front of players on the perimeter. That said, when he does get beat, he’s often able to use his quickness and length to either recover or contest shooters from behind without fouling.
The Thunder’s team defense was a mess, but Deck showed flashes of reading opposing plays before they happened. Here, he starts moving to intercept the pass to the corner before it’s even thrown.
A Familiar Face
Gabriel Deck played with an eclectic cast of characters in his short time with the Thunder. But, most importantly, he played with Tony Bradley, who is notably the Bulls’ new backup center. In their short time together, they already created a few highlights.
How The Bulls Could Acquire Gabriel Deck
In April, Gabriel Deck signed a four-year, $14.5 million dollar contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The final three years of the contract are fully non-guaranteed. This means the Thunder have until the September 1st deadline to decide if they want to keep Deck under contract. Reports early this summer suggested the Thunder would be declining that option. However, newer reports suggest that the Thunder intend to keep Deck under contract.
With the Thunder tanking and in need of playing time for their younger players, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to keep Deck around. The potential of a good wing on a cheap contract will likely interest teams such as the Bulls. Especially with David Aldridge mentioning Gabriel Deck’s offseason status as an “upcoming project”.
If the Bulls were to trade for Gabriel Deck, the price likely wouldn’t be high. The Bulls could offer Oklahoma City a second-round pick to acquire Deck’s services on a team friendly contract. The trade would certainly make sense with Deck fitting the style of play Bulls’ EVP Arturas Karnisovas likes.
The modern NBA leans heavily on it’s stars. In addition, it’s the team’s job to surround these stars with a cast of capable role players. With the Bulls in need of depth at the power forward spot, Gabriel Deck represents an interesting option.
Deck is neither the best defender nor the best shooter that the Bulls could pursue. But, Deck is capable in both areas and offers an interesting blend of complementary skills that are uncommon in 3-and-D players. Despite going undrafted in 2017, Gabriel Deck received praise from NBA legend Kobe Bryant. Deck also flourished on one of Europe’s top teams in Real Madrid.
The man known as “El Tortu” represents a desirable combination of passing touch and scoring prowess. With his abilities in the mid-post, on drives, and at the free throw line, Deck can provide instant offense. He is versatile enough to match the defensive needs of a modern power forward. His quick-fire decision making creates highlights on a nightly basis. Deck provides playoff experience from his time overseas, and also played with new Bull Tony Bradley during his short time in Oklahoma City.
All in all, Gabriel Deck represents an interesting option for the Bulls at power forward. Hopefully he’s someone the front office will consider this offseason.