Chicago Bulls Stock Watch: Risers and Fallers Near Season's Halfway Point

Andres MonteroContributor IJanuary 2, 2013

Chicago Bulls Stock Watch: Risers and Fallers Near Season's Halfway Point

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    Nearing the season's halfway point, the Chicago Bulls have shown that they can stay competitive without Derrick Rose. Joakim Noah has elevated his game to an All-Star level and Marco Belinelli has been a nice surprise for the Bulls.

    However, Chicago seems to have hit a slump recently, losing three of its last four games, including blowout losses to the Hawks and Rockets and a 10-point loss to the Bobcats at home. There's still a lot of season left to be played, but the Bulls have to start performing better if they want to keep a good pace as the season continues.

    In what has been an up-and-down season, the Bulls have seen both improvements and declines on their roster.

    Note:All stats are as of Jan. 1, 2013.

Rising: Joakim Noah

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    Joakim Noah has improved every year he's been in the league, but he has now taken the next step and become a go-to guy for the Bulls.

    With career highs in points, assists and blocks per game, Noah is in line to be selected to his first All-Star game. He has posted a triple-double this year, as well as his first 20-point, 20-rebound game.

    The Bulls will continue to rely on Noah every night, and as a result, he will keep playing at a high level throughout the rest of the season. His career year makes him the most improved player on the team.

Falling: Kirk Hinrich

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    Kirk Hinrich's return to the Bulls has been anything but spectacular. While he can do a good job of running the offense, his own offensive game has been non-existent. Averaging just 6.7 points per game on 36-percent shooting, Hinrich just hasn't performed up to expectations.

    Tom Thibodeau has faith in the point guard, however. After the Bulls' victory over the Knicks on Dec. 21, Thibodeau praised Hinrich's game, saying, "All I see is a guy playing well."

    Despite the coach's confidence in Hinrich, there's no way to describe Hinrich's season thus far other than mediocre.

Rising: Marco Belinelli

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    At the start of the season, it looked like Marco Belinelli was going to be downgrade from Kyle Korver, averaging just over five points per game in November. After a foot injury sidelined Richard Hamilton, Marco Belinelli showed what he was capable of, boosting his point average in December to 14.1 points.

    When Hamilton returned, Belinelli was forced back into a bench role, but he continued his strong play and led the Bulls in scoring that night.

    With his ability to shoot (he leads the team in three-point shooting percentage) and put the ball on the floor, Belinelli could prove to be an asset down the stretch for the Bulls, especially when Rose returns and is able to make the game easier for everyone around him.

Falling: Taj Gibson

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    Taj Gibson has definitely seen better years. His hustle doesn't seem as strong as usual, and maybe that's why his minutes per game have been the lowest of his career. His scoring and rebounding have also decreased, as well as his shooting percentage.

    After signing Gibson to a four-year, $38 million extension earlier this season, the Bulls should be hoping they didn't make a mistake.

    It's troubling that with the lack of frontcourt depth on the team, Gibson is seeing less time, but there's still a lot of games left for him to improve his game, and as a result, perhaps get more time on the floor.

Rising: Jimmy Butler

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    Second-year player Jimmy Butler has seen an increase in minutes and has made the most of them. He has doubled his averages in every statistical category and has also improved his shooting by 10 percentage points.

    His defensive skills are what make him stand out the most, though. At 6'7", 220 pounds, he's able to guard any shooting guard or small forward that he's assigned to, and with his athleticism, he can deny any sort of drive to the paint.

    He's also shown great hustle on the boards, grabbing one offensive rebound per game which is leading to easy points for him, and more importantly, the team.

Falling: Carlos Boozer

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    Carlos Boozer has had a very streaky season so far. He'll be solid, posting double-doubles for a three-game stretch, and then go on a slump, unable to record double-digit scoring and/or rebounding.

    In the Bulls' last three losses, he's averaged just 11 points and seven rebounds on just 26 minutes per game. He's also displayed poor shooting all season long; Boozer has been a 53-percent shooter in his career, but he's dipped under the 50-percent mark for just the second time in his career, this being his lowest ever.

    Boozer is still capable of having good games, but you never know which player is going to show up on any given night.