Richard Hamilton's Injury Pressures Dormant Chicago Bulls Offense to Deliver

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Richard Hamilton's Injury Pressures Dormant Chicago Bulls Offense to Deliver
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Chicago Bulls had planned on being without Derrick Rose (torn ACL) for a big part of the 2012-'13 NBA regular season.

What they didn't account for, though, was Rose taking the Bulls' offense with him.

A year after tying the San Antonio Spurs for the best record in (50-16), Chicago has slid down the Eastern Conference standings without their MVP leader. The 2012-'13 Bulls have struggled to find repeat performances on either end of the floor, but their offense has seen the biggest drop off.

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Coach Tom Thibodeau's team has struggled to identify a go-to scorer.

Luol Deng (18.1 points per game) has enjoyed a dominant season as a second option on offense. The problem is his complementary game has lacked the most crucial element for any sidekick. He's missing his superhero partner.

If there's been a bright spot for the 8-7 Bulls, it's been Richard Hamilton. The 13-year veteran isn't quite reliving his superstar days as a Detroit Piston, but he's no longer the offensive liability that Chicago fans may remember from last year.

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Thibodeau has been forced to implement an all-hands-on-deck approach to his offense. Deng leads the team in scoring, while four other players (Hamilton, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Nate Robinson) have each averaged between 13.9 and 11.2 points per game.

So when news broke that Hamilton suffered a torn plantar fascia in his left foot (according to Sam Smith of Bulls.com), a gust of despair blew across the Windy City. The shooting guard was enjoying his most productive season as a member of this franchise, and the team had never needed his production more.

All may not be lost from this injury though, which Smith suggests may keep Hamilton sidelined for a week or two. In fact, if Smith's timeframe is correct, Thibodeau may use the next handful of games to identify the rotation pieces who could help his team even after Hamilton's return.

Who will see the biggest increase in production while Hamilton is sidelined?

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Jimmy Butler, the second-year player out of Marquette, should be first in line for Hamilton's minutes. Butler plays the tenacious defense to fit Thibodeau's coaching style, and he's even shown some offensive ability in limited minutes (5.4 points on 52.9 percent shooting in 15.9 minutes per game).

Marco Belinelli has been the team's best three-point threat (40.7 percent), but the sharpshooter had appeared to be falling out of the rotation in recent games (he logged just 9.3 minutes per game over the team's past four games). Given Chicago's struggles with consistent offensive production, Belinelli could shoot his way in to more minutes now and over the course of the season.

Thibodeau may simply opt for increased touches for his bigs. Boozer has the pedigree to be a top option even if he's no longer the player that averaged 20-plus points three times over a four-year stretch. And Noah is such a gifted passer at the center spot (4.3 assists per game), that he remains productive despite the lack of an offensive post game.

Chicago's next three opponents all have losing records (Indiana, Cleveland and Detroit). But following those three contests, the Bulls start a stretch of eight games against teams over .500.

So these next three games loom large for Chicago's chances to maintain their competitiveness. If Thibodeau pulls the right strings with his offense, the Bulls could return Hamilton to a more consistently productive team than the one he left behind.

All statistics used in this article are accurate as of 12/2/2012.

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