The 6 Most Pivotal Players for the Chicago Bulls in 2012-13

Matt Moran@@mattgmoranContributor IIIAugust 24, 2012

The 6 Most Pivotal Players for the Chicago Bulls in 2012-13

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    The Chicago Bulls were successful the past two regular seasons because each member of the team played his role to near perfection. The most important players set the tone, and for the Bulls to compete in the East in 2012-13, that needs to happen once again.

    The Bulls are a well-oiled machine, and each piece has a specific job to do to make the team go. In order for that machine to reach its full potential, some players have to play a larger role than the others.

    And with MVP Derrick Rose missing most of the season, his teammates will have more important role than ever before.

    Here are the six most pivotal players on the Bulls roster heading into the 2012-13 NBA season.

6. Derrick Rose

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    Even though he likely won't be taking the court until at least March 2013, Derrick Rose is still one of the Bulls' six most pivotal players this season.

    The uncertain future for the former MVP has been talked about as much as any other Bulls story in the offseason. As the franchise player, whatever happens to D-Rose has a waterfall effect on the rest of the team.

    Rose's absence forced Chicago to add point guards this summer. The front office responded by signing free agents Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson and by drafting Marquis Teague. 

    If that trio could hold down the fort and keep the Bulls in the playoff race for much of the season, it puts the team in a strong position. If Rose comes back for the final 20 games of the season, he could be enough to secure a strong playoff seed. 

    Rose won't be at MVP form when he returns, and the Bulls won't need him to be. They have a good enough roster to stay in the race for a top-four seed in the East.

    But any dreams of a deep playoff run rest on the health of Rose.

5. Kirk Hinrich

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    The Bulls offense puts a ton of pressure on the point guard, mainly because the floor general is usually Derrick Rose. Kirk Hinrich takes the reins until Rose returns, and that leaves plenty of questions to be answered for the Bulls offense.

    Both C.J. Watson and John Lucas III did a solid job on offense last season. The Bulls system puts the ball in the hands of the point guard the majority of the time, and the team relies on him to make a play at the end of the shot clock.

    It will be difficult for Hinrich to handle this role. The starting lineup does not have a legit shot creator, and Hinrich, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer will be relied upon to create offense against stingy defenses. 

    Hinrich's scoring stats have dipped the past couple of seasons with the Atlanta Hawks. However, he should perform better surrounded by a slew of team-first veterans in the Chicago starting lineup.

    One important aspect Hinrich brings to the table is perimeter defense. With the losses of Ronnie Brewer and Omer Asik, the top defense in the NBA took a big hit. But Hinrich can defend players at either of the two guard positions, and he will fit seamlessly in Tom Thibodeau's system.

4. Taj Gibson

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    Taj Gibson is the Chicago Bulls' most crucial bench player because of his ability to defend the paint and athletic wing players. He will have an even more important role in 2012-13 due to the departure of backup center Omer Asik.

    When the Bulls had leads in the fourth quarter last season, which happened quite often, Gibson and Asik's interior defense was a powerful closer. Without his frontline mate from a year ago, Gibson may have to spend some time at center this season, depending on the situation.

    This season is huge for Gibson, with restricted free agency looming next summer. He has clearly established himself as an important role player, and if he can step his game up to the next level this year, he will receive a fat paycheck.

    With Derrick Rose out, the Bulls need to collectively find more offense as an entire unit. Gibson needs to be a part of that solution. He will get plenty of open mid-range jumpers in pick-and-roll situations.

    A solid offensive season out of Gibson would go a long way in helping the Bulls to a successful season, and it could help Gibson secure a massive raise.

3. Carlos Boozer

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    Will Carlos Boozer ever live up to his five-year, $75 million contract?

    Probably not. But if the former All-Star were to ever come close to matching that type of production, now is the time.

    Without Derrick Rose, the offensive burden falls most heavily on Boozer's shoulders. He averaged 15.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in 2011-12. Those numbers have to improve, or the Bulls are in trouble. 

    One way Boozer can improve his scoring production is by getting to the free throw line more. He averaged just 2.1 free throw attempts per game last season. That clearly shows the 6'9" power forward was a passive player last year, and he needs to become a more aggressive scorer because the Bulls don't have many other options.

    If the Bulls start losing and Boozer is averaging only 12-14 points per contest, expect non-stop criticism from the fans and media. Boozer's not-so-tough mantra already makes him not so liked in Chicago, and the pressure is on him to have a big season.

    Despite all the blame he gets, Boozer is the most important offensive player on the team heading into 2012-13. That is why he is pivotal to the Bulls' success.

2. Luol Deng

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    Luol Deng is the second most important player on the Bulls roster. He fills the stat sheet and is the team's best lock-down defender against opposing stars.

    It felt like all of Chicago let out a sigh of relief when Deng made it through the London Olympics unscathed, and he remains on schedule to start the season despite an injured wrist.

    It appears that Deng will forgo surgery and begin the 2012-13 campaign in the starting lineup. Losing Deng and Derrick Rose for an extended period of time would have been a huge blow to the Bulls, and it might have cost them a playoff spot.

    Now that Deng is ready to go, he will once again play a pivotal role in the Bulls' success. Deng led Chicago in playing time last season, staying on the floor for 81 percent of the team's total minutes.

    Deng made his first All-Star appearance last season, and he will need to play like an All-Star on both ends of the floor to keep the Bulls among the top contenders in the East. 

1. Joakim Noah

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    Joakim Noah is the Bulls most pivotal player entering the 2012-13 NBA season because of his presence in the paint. Without Omer Asik, Noah becomes a much important piece to the Bulls puzzle.

    Noah is an outstanding defensive center, but he was bailed out by the defensive specialist Asik, who finished the job in plenty of games last season. Noah will not have that luxury this year, and the Bulls need Noah to patrol the paint every night for the team to remain among the top defensive units in the NBA.

    The backup center this year is Nazr Mohammed, but he will merely be there to give Noah a break. The Bulls won't depend on him in the fourth quarter like they did with Asik the past two seasons.

    Without Derrick Rose, expect the Bulls to play in plenty of close, low-scoring affairs this season. Noah will be taxed on the defensive end of the floor almost every game, but it is essential that he keeps enough in the tank to protect the rim the closing minutes of contests.

    Noah will also have to play an increased role on offense. He added a left-handed running hook to his arsenal last year. It will be interesting to see what kind of post moves Noah added this offseason.

    Noah has the potential to put up a double-double every night. If he gives the Bulls this kind of production, don't be surprised if you see Noah in Houston next February for the NBA All-Star Game.