Chicago Bulls: 3 Unsung Heroes Who Are Saving the Season
Realistically, having the sixth-best record in the East isn't exactly something worth celebrating, but they are only half a game behind the fourth-place Atlanta Hawks.
Which Bulls players have been keeping the team afloat, but don't get enough credit for their contributions to the team?
This slideshow will evaluate three players who have been critical to the team's success this year, but never get mentioned enough.
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Luol Deng has been an All-Star for the past two seasons, but he never gets enough recognition for his contributions.
He does so many things that don't come up on the stat sheet and aren't highlight-reel worthy, but sometimes that's a good thing. Coaches and opposing teammates alike know how valuable Deng is to the Bulls.
He's not the best or even the second-best player on this team, but he is unquestionably the most important.
Deng is currently registering the most minutes per game of any other player on the team (39.0), and is also leading the team in scoring (16.5 PPG). Furthermore, he defends the opposing team's best player night in and night out.
For the past several seasons, Deng has always been among the league leaders in minutes played, but hardly ever gets mentioned as one of the best small forwards in the league.
Talent-wise, he's not in the same category of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant or even Paul George. But his effort, work-ethic and relentless hustle on the floor has molded him into such a great player, especially on defense.
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Despite his share of inconsistency, Nate Robinson is quietly putting up one of the best seasons of his career. On a per-36 minute basis, he is recording 18.0 points, 6.2 assists and 1.7 steals (per Basketball Reference).
Robinson's PER of 17.5 is the third highest of his career, and he has contributed the fourth most win-shares to the team this season, even though he's garnering less than 24 minutes of playing time per game.
At times, Robinson looks like a very erratic scorer, and can shoot his team out of the game or lead it to victory. Fortunately this season, he's had more good games than bad ones.
Throughout his career, Robinson has been an underrated defender. Even at 5'9", he's a tough, aggressive perimeter defender and is strong enough to keep up with bigger point guards. Coming off the bench gives him even more energy, and he is the spark that runs the Bulls' bench this year.
He's also, arguably, the team's most potent scorer right now.
The Bulls have a few capable scorers, but nobody can create their own shot as effectively as Robinson, and he's the only player who can make something happen against great defensive teams.
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As possibly the exact opposite of Robinson, Kirk Hinrich's steady, meticulous play at the point guard position this season has increased the flow of the Bulls' offense quite nicely.
He's part of the reason why Carlos Boozer and Rip Hamilton have been playing well so far this season. Hinrich fits into the mold of a traditional point guard and never tries to do too much.
He knows his limits, and always controls the tempo of the slow-paced Bulls.
Like Robinson, Hinrich is a very underrated defender. He's a big point guard, and has the size and length to bother opposing guards on the perimeter.
At a quick glance, his numbers this season aren't that great. He's recording just 7.3 PPG and 5.4 APG on 38 percent shooting.
However, those numbers don't say everything. Derrick Rose is one of the best point guards in the league when he's healthy, but he's a scoring point guard who clogs the lane, which makes it harder for Boozer and Joakim Noah to produce near the basket.
On the other hand, Hinrich's presence on the floor opens up the game for all of his teammates and contributed to Joakim Noah having the best season of his career.