Chicago Bulls' Most and Least Improved Players of the Season

Ryan Reed@@rareedBRCorrespondent IIDecember 17, 2012

Chicago Bulls' Most and Least Improved Players of the Season

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    The Chicago Bulls came into the season as a complete unknown due to the absence of Derrick Rose.

    While some Bulls' fans argued that they had played well in several games without Rose during the 2011-12 NBA season, others countered that it is a much different feat to compete for an entire season without a star player as opposed to a few games here and there.

    Still, Chicago has been impressive thus far and is currently leading the Central Division with a 12-10 record.

    This is largely due to the great defense played by the Bulls along with the rise of several players. Unfortunately, this team has also seen its share of disappointing play from players that they were expected to shine.

    So who has improved the most from last season to carry Chicago to its division lead? And who has fallen off the wagon just when Chicago could really use them?

    Keep reading to find out.

Most Improved Runner Up: Joakim Noah, C

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    Joakim Noah has received almost 10 minutes more per game this season and boy is he making use of that time.

    The 6'11" center has been averaging 13.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game while also contributing 2.3 blocks and 1.5 steals.

    These numbers are up from 10.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.4 blocks and .6 steals per game just a season ago.

    Essentially, Noah has increased his numbers across the board, while also posting a team high 18.4 PER which has been essential in the Bulls continued success.

    The only reason Joakim isn't the most improved player in Chicago is his significant drop in field goal percentage, from 50.8% to 47.9%, while turning the ball over 1.6 more times per game. Still, each of these numbers can be explained by the rise in minutes played as well as increased importance to the offense.

Most Improved Player: Luol Deng, SF

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    Perhaps nobody has been more vital to the success of the Chicago Bulls than Luol Deng.

    When Derrick Rose went down with a torn ACL, it was assumed that Deng would return to carrying the offensive load after a down season in 2011-12.

    So far, he has done just that by averaging 17.8 points per game on 44.2% shooting, up from 15.3 points on 41.2% shooting from the field last season. To add to that, Deng is now shooting 83.3% from the free throw line while taking an extra free throw per game.

    Finally, Deng has continued to play the role of defensive stopper for this Bulls team while grabbing 7.3 rebounds per game, good for fourth in the NBA at his position.

    Luol Deng should be considered the most improved player on the Bulls roster because he has maintained his defensive prowess while upping his offensive responsibilities and rebounding. His stellar play has been key in the Chicago Bulls leading the Central Division.

Least Improved Runner Up: Kirk Hinrich, G

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    Kirk Hinrich was brought to the Chicago Bulls as a temporary replacement for Derrick Rose, something he has done adequately.

    Hinrich has even managed to return to his former glory as a distributor by averaging 5.5 assists per game, his highest total since the 2007-08 season.

    Where Kirk has struggled, however, is in his shooting percentages. So far, he is shooting 36.1% from the field, down from 45.2% two seasons ago. Even worse, his free throw percentage has dropped to 65.8%, an extremely low mark by his standards.

    At the same time, his turnovers have gone up from 1.2 to 1.8 per game this season, although that can be largely explained by the expanded playmaking role.

    Kirk Hinrich has played solid stepping in for Derrick Rose this season, he just isn't playing as efficiently as he has proven to be capable of in previous years.

Least Improved Player: Taj Gibson, PF

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    Just before the contract extension deadline, the Chicago Bulls signed power forward Taj Gibson to a four year contract worth $38 million.

    With the addition of that contract, many expected Gibson to have a breakout year, especially with the recent struggles of Carlos Boozer.

    Instead, Taj has struggled to earn more playing time or to make a larger impact than he did last season. So far, he is averaging 6.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game, all lower than the previous year.

    Even worse, Gibson has shot 43.2% from the field this season, making his limited offensive impact extremely inefficient.

    Taj Gibson has failed to make a true impact on this Chicago team, despite being billed as its future power forward. He is currently ranked 34th in the NBA in rebounds per 48 minutes for power forwards hasn't made a significant impact offensively. His play has simply been a disappointment and has not lived up to the new contract he just signed.