Noah and Deng are both having All-Star caliber seasons.
Without Derrick Rose in the lineup, the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls have had to tinker with their rotation in search of the best unit, and this tinkering has led to some surprises in terms of their best and worst statistical five man units.
The Bulls feature a couple constants in their rotation—Joakim Noah and Luol Deng. Both are in the midst of seasons that beckon All-Star appearances, and the presence they both bring, both offensively and defensively, has helped the Bulls compile a 14-10 record without a true superstar.
To detail their value, 82games.com reveals some rather telling statistics. Noah currently holds a plus-88 plus/minus rating on the season. This simply means that, throughout this season, the Bulls are plus-88 on their opponents when Noah is on the floor. Deng's number isn't quite as high, but it still rests at an impressive plus-41.
When these two are on the floor, good things happen for the Bulls. Coach Tom Thibodeau surely knows this, and it's undoubtedly why he plays both of them extensively. (They are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the league in minutes played per game).
After Noah and Deng, questions emerge regarding who should be seeing the bulk of the playing time.
What other three players help give the Bulls the most productive unit? Should they go with a more offensively-adept group and utilize Carlos Boozer and Nate Robinson? Or, should they insert a more defensive-minded lineup featuring Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich?
82games.com reveals that the Bulls' lineup with the greatest plus/minus rating (plus-32) is comprised of Noah, Gibson, Deng, Marco Belinelli and Robinson. This unit tallies an offensive rating (which is simply points per possession) of 1.08 and a defensive rating (points allowed per possession) of 0.83.
This lineup appears to establish a good balance of offensive and defensive chemistry.
Interestingly, if one adjustment is made to this lineup, the results look much different. Inserting Boozer in place of Gibson dramatically alters the ratings. The plus/minus suddenly becomes minus-8, and the defensive rating leaps to 1.05.
This magnifies what most Bulls fans already know: Boozer has defensive limitations that mightily hurt Chicago's performance. While Gibson hasn't consistently impressed on the stat sheet this season, he clearly helps the Bulls in terms of intangibles. He's at the core of what helps the aforementioned five-man unit rank as Chicago's best.
Other lineups have also meshed well with one another. The starting unit (Hinrich, Hamilton, Deng, Boozer and Noah) is situated at a plus-12 rating with an offensive rating of 1.00 and a defensive rating of 0.97. This isn't dominant by any means, but it's nothing to complain about. Furthermore, Belinelli's presence in the starting lineup (since Hamilton's injury) hasn't altered the production much at all. In fact, the offensive rating has actually increased.
A couple of other defensive-minded lineups have also fared extremely well. Hinrich, Jimmy Butler, Deng, Gibson and Noah combine to tally an eye-opening defensive rating of 0.73. This is the Bulls' most suffocating defensive lineup, and their offensive tally has been adequate (1.04 rating).
In terms of Chicago's worst statistical unit, one of them was mentioned above when merely inserting Boozer for Gibson. But all the blame shouldn't solely be pointed at Boozer when it comes to the poor statistical units.
For instance, a lineup of Robinson, Butler, Deng, Gibson and Noah features a subpar performance with one another thus far. While you'd think their defensive rating would be fantastic, it actually sits at 1.01, and their offensive output doesn't make up for it (0.96).
The lineup with the lowest plus/minus overall (minus-21) features Robinson, Belinelli, Deng, Gibson and Nazr Mohammed. This unit possesses rather ugly offensive (0.82) and defensive (1.07) ratings.
Unfortunately, Mohammed's age and lack of ability are a major weak link for the 2012-13 Bulls. He doesn't appear to jell with the second unit. This demonstrates how the Bulls drastically miss the presence of Omer Asik, who was a defensive intimidator on the Bulls' Bench Mob in 2010-11 and 2011-12.
What can be gathered through much of this analysis is that the Bulls need to display a proper balance of offensive firepower with defensive tenacity. Gibson appears to be a key ingredient, as his presence is in the middle of a number of the Bulls' best units. Furthermore, 82games.com unveils Gibson's spectacular plus/minus rating of plus-48, which only trails Noah on Chicago's roster.
However, an issue to remember in this is who Gibson is playing against. While Boozer doesn't look impressive when it comes to these numbers, he is typically going against opponent's starters—whereas Gibson typically sees opponent's second units.
Still, the issue inevitably raised in all of this is how to handle Boozer and Gibson. Would Gibson's plus/minus still be so high if he was consistently playing against starters?
Gibson should at least be given the chance to play more against an opponent's first unit. These statistics reveal that Boozer's minutes should be curtailed to a degree while Gibson's increase. Gibson should at least be playing 25-30 minutes a night (currently at just 20 per game), while Boozer's number should come down to around 25 (currently at 30.3 per game).
What's apparent is that if the Bulls are trying to grind out a victory, Gibson should be in the lineup as well as Hinrich. Boozer and Robinson should most definitely contribute during earlier stages of the game, when an offensive spark is needed. But Gibson, Hinrich, Deng and Noah should all four be on the floor late in close contests.
The remaining spot should be totally dependent on matchups, as Belinelli (or Hamilton, if healthy) is needed if the Bulls are trailing, and Butler should be inserted if the Bulls are just trying to get stops.
These numbers are all very revealing, but remember that they're all subject to change. Upon Rose's return, many of these numbers will likely fluctuate. Boozer may suddenly look like a force once he can play with Rose again.
The Bulls have much to be optimistic about as the season unfolds. Rose's return is the chief cause for excitement, but so is the fact that they have some key pieces to spark them towards success. Noah and Deng are at the core of this, but other players (Gibson, Belinelli, Butler and even rookie Marquis Teague in a couple of recent games) are currently finding their niche on this roster and chipping in at a rate to be recognized.