A handful of players have shown improvement for the Chicago Bulls this season.
Guys have needed to step up in the absence of superstar point guard Derrick Rose, who hasn’t played a game since last April (torn ACL).
Without Rose, the Bulls are playing respectable basketball thus far, owning the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference.
Lockdown defense is the main reason the Bulls have stayed competitive this season and not fallen off the face of the earth. However, improved play from guys like Joakim Noah and Luol Deng has also contributed to the team's success.
Picking up Nate Robinson in the summer was an excellent move by the Bulls.
The former dunk champion has served as a spark plug of the bench and has filled in nicely, replacing an injured Kirk Hinrich in the starting five.
Although his offensive stats haven’t improved much from last season’s, his defensive stats have.
His defensive rating has risen from 110 to 102, and his defensive win shares have jumped from 0.4 to 2.0, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Luol Deng was phenomenal last season, and he has been even better this season, making his second straight All-Star appearance.
The Duke product is Chicago’s current leading scorer, holding down the fort for the injured Derrick Rose.
Deng is averaging 16.4 points per contest, a little better than his 15.3 from a season ago. He’s not going to put up 25 points a night like D-Rose, but he’s a solid scorer.
In addition, both his free-throw percentage and field-goal percentage have increased.
When you think of Deng, you think about outstanding defense, which is what he provides night-in and night-out for the Bulls.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t a fan of playing rookies. That’s one reason Jimmy Butler was rarely used last season.
Fortunately for Butler, his playing time has increased a great deal this season, going from 8.5 minutes per game to 22.3
He’s averaging 7.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.0 assist and 0.8 steals while shooting 48 percent from the field. Also, he’s shooting 86 percent from the foul line, which ranks 18th in the entire Association.
Butler is the perfect fit for Coach Thibs’ system due to his stellar play on the defensive end of the floor.
It's safe to say he has a bright future in the Windy City.
It wasn’t too long ago that every Bulls fan wanted Carlos Boozer to be amnestied.
Nowadays, though, not every fan wants him out of Chicago.
Criticized often since becoming a Bull in 2010, Boozer stepped his game up after the calendar year changed to 2013. His amazing performances this year include 36 points against the Toronto Raptors, 31 against the Orlando Magic and 27 against the defending-champion Miami Heat.
Boozer didn’t make the Eastern Conference All-Star team this season, but he was definitely a candidate.
His scoring and rebounding have helped the Bulls remain one of the top teams in the East.
Joakim Noah at No. 1 just makes too much sense, right?
The sixth-year pro out of Florida is having the best season of his career. He’s currently averaging 12.1 points, 11.4 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.3 steals per contest (all career highs).
Speaking of career highs, Noah is also dishing out 4.2 assists, which is truly exceptional for a big man. He has played the unique “point center” role for the Bulls, frequently showcasing his passing ability out of the high post.
Although he can’t score in the low post as well as the likes of Al Jefferson or Brook Lopez, Noah has emerged as the league’s top all-around center.
Noah has a slew of memorable performances, thus far, including his 30-point, 23-rebound effort against the Detroit Pistons and a historic triple-double versus the Philadelphia 76ers (23 points, 21 rebounds and a ridiculous 11 blocks).
Noah was named an All-Star this season, an honor he undoubtedly deserved.