Due to a plethora of injuries, the Chicago Bulls have been forced to use an excessive number of five-man units.
In this often frustrating process, there have still been a few positives—namely that they've stumbled upon one unit that is surging in productivity.
So, who is this group of five, and what makes them so fruitful?
A Bulls lineup featuring Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah has contributed with eye-popping efficiency. This mix, which features four reserves, shockingly ranks as Chicago's No. 1 unit in terms of plus/minus (+55), according to 82games.com. The second-closest unit is a plus-28 group featuring Kirk Hinrich, Butler, Luol Deng, Gibson and Noah.
The Bulls' top five-man squad is not only shocking because it contains four reserves, but also because Robinson, Belinelli and Butler are all new contributors. Robinson and Belinelli are in their first seasons with the Bulls, and Butler rarely saw significant minutes as a rookie in 2011-12.
What's evident is that they've integrated themselves quickly and effectively into Chicago's rotation, and they should honestly be playing more together.
This assemblage of talent is successful largely because they provide a compelling mixture of offense and defense. Furthermore, Gibson, Noah, Belinelli and Butler are the Bulls' top four players in terms of individual plus/minus.
Noah's contributions on both ends of the floor are vividly clear. He was a worthy All-Star and is the team's heartbeat, which is clear considering how Noah is in all of Chicago's top five-man units.
Gibson, while currently injured, is also in most of the Bulls' top-ranked groups. His defensive prowess and ability to score near the bucket have enabled his individual plus/minus ranking to skyrocket (+129, which is the highest on the team), according to 82games.com. While Gibson may only average 7.7 points per game and 5.4 rebounds per game, it's clear that good things happen when he's on the floor.
When paired together, Noah and Gibson give Chicago a dynamic defensive frontcourt. Their ability to contest shots and rebound create loads of problems for opponents.
The same can be said for Jimmy Butler, whose athleticism suffocates opposing wings. He constantly alters jump shots because of his length and quickness, and his offensive skills are developing by the day (he recently tallied 20 points in a loss to the Indiana Pacers).
Robinson and Belinelli, while average to below-average defenders, give this lineup the offensive punch the Bulls often lack. Both are capable of creating their own shot and setting up others. Such capabilities, coupled with the smothering defense of Noah, Gibson and Butler, make for a lethal combination.
This five-man crew's efforts have resulted in a lofty offensive rating of 1.21 and a stingy defensive rating of 0.94, according to 82games.com. The perplexing thing, however, is that this mix of five players has only notched 117.0 minutes together during the 2012-13 campaign. Four other five-man units rank ahead of this bunch.
This reveals that the collection of Robinson, Belinelli, Butler, Gibson and Noah should be showcased more often. It's a blend of players that has excelled, and the statistical analysis proves it.
Something worth pondering in this discussion is what Chicago's top unit will be when Derrick Rose returns, which will hopefully happen soon. If Rose is inserted into this five-man squad and Robinson is removed, then the Bulls become even scarier. Rose could take an already quality bunch and take them to even greater heights.
One player who shouldn't be overlooked in all of this is Luol Deng. While Deng doesn't appear in the Bulls' top five-man unit that should be displayed more, he does appear in a handful of other combinations that are deserving of respect.
However, this analysis unveils why there's no need for Deng to log the minutes he's currently netting (a league-leading 39.1 minutes per game). Butler can adequately fill in for him when necessary. Coach Tom Thibodeau should recognize this and allow Deng more rest, which will likely enhance his productivity.
Deng recently endured a brutal month offensively (39.4-percent shooting in February) and more resting time should result in more energy and greater efficiency.
This presents another reason why the unit of Robinson, Belinelli, Butler, Gibson and Noah should be seen more frequently. Not only do they get the job done, but they also prompt an opportunity for Deng to recharge his batteries a bit more.
At this stage of the season, it's decidedly apparent which rotations have the best chemistry with one another. The five-man unit advocated for here supplies grittiness on the defensive end and numerous options offensively.
Because of this, we should see more of these faces on the hardwood together. And very soon, we should see four of these faces alongside D-Rose, whose face amidst any Chicago unit could change the outlook of the Playoffs come April, May and June.
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