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Both Joakim Noah and Luol Deng are having career years.
With Noah averaging 12 and 11, and Deng with 17 and 7, the teammates earned a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
Noah’s most evident improvement this year has been in his offensive game. Although his points per game stat isn’t as drastic of a change from the 10.2 last year, his willingness to take shots is the real difference this season.
Noah put in numerous hours in the offseason working on his jump-shot, and it has shown in his comfort level on the court. In an interview with ESPN Chicago, head coach Tom Thibodeau spoke on Noah’s work ethic to improve his jumper.
Quite honestly, he hasn't [surprised me] because I saw him shoot all summer and consistently he was knocking that shot down. My thing is, as long as you're working that hard and it's going in, then I don't have a problem with you shooting it if you're open. It looks a little different, but it goes in. That's the bottom line.
And Noah himself likes to think of his jump-shot a little differently than others, again in the same interview with ESPN Chicago.
A lot of people say it's ugly, I like to think it's artistic. I feel pretty confident. I don't want players to play off me like that. I feel like I worked on it pretty hard with Thibodeau in the off-season, and to me there's nothing better than making a 15-footer because a lot of people told me my whole life that I wouldn't be able to shoot it. So it feels great knocking it down.
By leading the team in rebounds, blocks and steals, Noah has established himself as a top center in the NBA and earned his first spot on the All-Star team. With the defense he has been playing, he is also a top candidate to win Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Luol Deng has picked up right where he left off last season. In Rose's absence, Deng has also shown that he can lead a team in scoring if need be, with 17 points per game this year. Being able to produce slightly better numbers than his first All-Star season, he has become the focal point of the Bulls offense.
Even though he might not get credit in certain plays for "hockey assists," he plays at times if he were a point forward. Deng's penetration and passing has been key to Chicago's offense at the moment without Rose. And he still poses the threat of taking it to the rim or shooting the open three.
All while being considered one of the best perimeter defensive players, the small forward for the Bulls has been in the top five the past three seasons for most minutes played, and leads the league this season with 39.7 according to ESPN (http://espn.go.com/nba/seasonleaders/_/league/nba/sort/avgMinutes). By just the sheer amount of minutes the Bulls player has seen over the past couple of years, he is considered as one of the iron-men of the league, and shows how valuable he is in Thibodeau's system.