Handing out Chicago Bulls Team Awards Through the Season's 1st Quarter
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The first quarter for the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls has been rather dry, but they still have a handful of players who have made impressions that are worth noting.
While Derrick Rose remains sidelined, the Bulls lack firepower and are merely an average team. Their defense has enabled them to keep their record above .500, but their offensive inconsistency is limiting their potential.
Yet each game, they play as hard as anybody and figure to return to a title contender upon Rose's return. Coach Tom Thibodeau has established a rigorous system in Chicago, and it takes unique players to fulfill what he asks of his core contributors.
Certain members have really stepped up and taken leadership while Rose is out, and others have raised eyebrows in supporting roles. Through approximately 20 games, it's time to recognize who is standing out on the current Bulls roster. The performance of these players give the Bulls much to be excited about as the season progresses, particularly as Rose's return nears.
Here are the Chicago Bulls team awards through the season's first quarter.
Stats used in this slideshow were as of December 12, 2012.
Most Improved Player Award: Jimmy Butler
Butler excels playing around the rim.
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Last year as a rookie, Jimmy Butler rarely saw important minutes. But since Ronnie Brewer is no longer a member of the Bulls (now a member of the New York Knicks), Butler has been given the opportunity to fill Brewer's void.
And he hasn't disappointed.
He's revealed why Brewer was expendable, because Butler is, in many ways, the same type of player as Brewer. Butler's defensive prowess on the wing has made an impact in a plethora of games, and his all-around athleticism is a valuable component off Chicago's bench.
He has a knack for making game-changing plays, such as nabbing steals leading to fast-break dunks or snagging a crucial offensive rebound. His versatility provides him the capability to be an "X-factor" on any given night.
Offensively, he's averaging 5.2 points per game while shooting an incredible percentage: 54.5 percent.
However, while the percentage is noteworthy, he does still appear to lack confidence, at times, in his overall offensive game. He rarely looks for his shot or seeks to create. The reason his percentage is so high is because a good chunk of the shots he takes are transitions layups or second chance points near the bucket.
He's made strides offensively, but he could become an extremely potent weapon if his confidence rises when he touches the rock.
All in all, his defense is top-notch already, and his offense is heading in the right direction. This all-around development seen in the 2012-13 first quarter reveals why Butler is Chicago's most improved player. He has matured and is certainly worthy of the minutes he's netting off the bench.
Best Defensive Player Award: Luol Deng
Deng's defense has been superb the past few seasons.
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This award is a toss-up between Luol Deng and Joakim Noah because they are the heart and soul of this team while Rose is in street clothes.
Deng notches the best defensive player award through the first quarter because of his effort seen thus far on a game-to-game basis. He may lack defensive numbers (averages 1.0 steals per game and 0.4 blocks per outing), but this is where we can't let statistics cloud worthwhile activity.
Deng is currently leading the league in minutes played and continually guards the opposing team's best wing player. The consistent high level of play he contributes on the defensive end is invaluable to the Bulls' style of play. It's a foundational reason why they currently rank second in the league in points allowed per game (91.4).
He is by no means flashy, but his length coupled with his ability to stay in front of wing players is a dynamic force for Chicago's defense. Plus, his attitude and effort never appear to waver. He can be trusted to exert himself fully in each and every game.
The truth is that if you take Deng off the Bulls, who knows where they would be. He does the little things and has become a staple for them both defensively and offensively.
Quite frankly, his defensive tenacity could propel him back to the All-Star Game for the second straight season. No matter what, it's definitely made him worthy to receive the Chicago's best defensive player award for the first quarter.
6th Man Award: Nate Robinson
Robinson has become one of Chicago's main offensive weapons.
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The Bulls lost some key components to last year's Bench Mob, and the new-look Bench Mob is taking some time to gel. One player who has helped the Bulls' second unit establish some rhythm is energetic point guard Nate Robinson.
Nate Rob has proven to be a wise offseason addition, as his abilities are crucial for an overall roster that is sorely in need of offensive spark plugs.
Robinson has tallied some ugly performances, but he's also been their most productive player on some nights. His ability to find his shot and set up teammates gives him major value and is the reason why he has earned the Sixth Man award through the first quarter.
Robinson's currently averaging 10.9 PPG in just 20.7 minutes played per outing. According to RealGM Sports, this equates to a 19.02 PPG average per 36 minutes. He is clearly scoring at quite a rate, and he's also handing out 3.6 assists per game.
Further, Robinson gives this team an emotional lift with his spunky personality. While some may find his antics annoying, he gives this team some life off the bench as well as in the locker room.
It will be interesting to see how Robinson's minutes are handled upon Rose's return. His steady play has provided reason for him to still see time even when Rose returns to the hardwood.
Biggest Surprise Award: Marco Belinelli
Belinelli is shooting 39.7 percent from three-point range on the season.
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While the "Biggest Surprise Award" is not a real honor to be received come season's end, one Bulls player has created this for himself in recent weeks.
Marco Belinelli was signed for approximately $2 million in the offseason to replace Kyle Korver, who was traded to the Atlanta Hawks. Korver is making $5 million this season, which is the primary reason why the Bulls traded him. They didn't want to pay that salary and figured they could find a replacement at a more reasonable price.
Not only did they find a more reasonable price, they also found a more well-rounded player.
Belinelli has been a surprise due to the array of skills in his repertoire. Korver was purely a catch-and-shoot player, but Belinelli has shown the ability to put the ball on the floor and create while also displaying his ability to catch and shoot from long-range.
His impressions have mainly come as of late. He's averaging 17.0 points per game since being inserted into the starting lineup due to Richard Hamilton's injury.
This offensive production has been valuable in recent games, and it should remain significant throughout the season. Belinelli is by no means just a scrub to have on the bench, but a worthwhile threat who can be a difference-maker.
Most Valuable Player Award: Joakim Noah
Noah is contributing in so many different ways.
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Joakim Noah is having a career year and is exclaiming why he is deserving of an All-Star appearance.
His all-around energy on both ends of the floor is infectious for this Bulls squad. This team feeds off him and relies on his grit. He brings all the intangibles to the table.
What's more, his numbers this season are astounding: 13.6 PPG, 10.8 rebounds per game, 4.3 assists per game, 2.3 blocks per game and 1.4 steals per outing.
Talk about contributing across the board.
Noah's game has never been pretty, epitomized by his "tornado" jump shot, but you can't argue with his production and the fact that he knows how to win. He's clearly become somebody Coach Thibodeau depends upon, as he's logging 40.0 minutes per game (only trails Deng for the most in the league).
He has been the Bulls' most valuable piece through the first quarter, and his stellar contributions should continue throughout the season. He's completely deserving of his first All-Star appearance, and it would be quite a shame if he's left off the roster.