The primary reason the team struggled in the postseason was due to the fact they were unable to score against a team that was just as defensively sound as they were. With Rose expected to be out until the February, it was important to make adjustments and several players have emphatically answered the call.
Luol Deng was a player who was often perceived as soft and could not stay healthy. However, Deng has become the unquestioned leader of the team in Rose’s absence, averaging over 17 points, six rebounds and three assists per contest. Joakim Noah is having the best season of his career, providing the team with 12 points and 11 rebounds per night. Carlos Boozer, who many fans have complained about in the past, recently had a stretch of 15 games in which he averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds.
While each of the aforementioned players has stepped up in a major way, there is another player who is quietly making a name for himself over the past two weeks: Jimmy Butler.
Deng was sidelined with a sore right hamstring for five games and Butler made sure the team did not miss a beat, per ESPN's Nick Friedell. During that stretch, Butler averaged 14.2 points and 8.6 rebounds, while playing 45 minutes per game. His most notable performance came in a 95-83 win over the Lakers on January 21. Butler scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while limiting Lakers’ star Kobe Bryant to 16 points on 7-of-22 shooting from the field.
In addition to filling in admirably as a starter during Deng’s absence, the second-year player proved he is able to give the team the same production as a reserve as well. Since Deng’s return to the lineup, Butler has scored 19 and 18 points in wins over the Charlotte Bobcats and the Milwaukee Bucks, respectively.
Final Word: No single player on the roster can replace what a healthy Rose brings to the table, but the team has learned how to win games with the collective effort of multiple players. That said, with the improved play of their frontcourt, along with consistent production from reserves such as Butler, Taj Gibson and Marco Belinelli, the Bulls may prove to be an even deeper ballclub than teams the fans have watched over the past two seasons.
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