Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng should both be on the floor late in playoff games.
Come the playoffs, which five players should be on the hardwood with the game on the line?
This is obviously dependent upon who's healthy, namely Derrick Rose. If Rose returns soon (which is seeming less and less likely), then he'll certainly be an integral factor down the stretch in playoff games.
However, in this slideshow, we'll assume that he won't be in action.
Therefore, without a true superstar, which clutch-five bunch can contribute effectively enough to make plays when it really counts?
One thing is for sure: Coach Tom Thibodeau will have his guys ready, and they'll aptly compete against anybody.
At some point, though, talent and timely production must come from the men in uniform. The five listed here are the men who give the Bulls the best chance to grind out wins in the game's final moments.
This comes as no surprise.
Joakim Noah was a worthy All-Star selection in February, and he should log major minutes as soon as the postseason launches.
He has recently missed some games due to a foot injury, but it appears the Bulls are just playing it safe as the playoffs near. You can count on Noah supplying worthwhile (and hefty) minutes come the opening round.
He's a lock to be in the Bulls' clutch five because of his defensive tenacity and his unorthodox offensive game that features savvy passing and loads of offensive rebounds. He does all the little things, and often times a little thing done late is what decides an outcome.
Noah can provide a well-timed offensive board and putback lay-up. He can highly contest an opponent's shot in the game's final stages. He can also come up with a crucial hustle play, such as diving on the floor for a loose ball.
His energy and passion are made for clutch moments. He feeds off the pressure the playoffs present. He epitomizes the type of player who can register pivotal moments on a team's journey to basketball glory. He greatly enjoyed this type of success en route to two college basketball titles during his tenure at the University of Florida.
Expect him to notch some eye-popping performances come playoff-time, featuring some marquee moments where his efforts are monumental.
This also comes as no surprise.
Luol Deng joined Noah at the All-Star game this year, which was Deng's second straight appearance. His efforts on both ends of the floor have become a staple in Chicago's playing style.
Deng leads the league in minutes per game at 39.1. Coach Thibodeau clearly trusts him. This is why you can be absolutely positive that Deng will be on the floor in the final minutes of playoff games.
His defensive capabilities are imperative to Chicago's success, and without Rose he is the Bulls' primary shot creator. He doesn't always thrive in this role, but with limited options, the Bulls must heavily use what he brings to the table offensively.
Furthermore, Deng has revealed his big-game potential recently, such as when he compiled 28 points, seven rebounds and five assists in a hotly contested, playoff-like win over the Miami Heat.
These types of performances are in his arsenal. The bottom line is that he's a proven All-Star who makes plays on both ends of the floor.
Noah and Deng will surely be on the floor late. So, who should join them?
Jimmy Butler has been raising eyebrows across the league in the season's past few months. His defensive prowess and his steadily improving offensive game are giving the Bulls a potent, multi-faceted weapon.
Due to injuries to Richard Hamilton and Marco Belinelli, Butler has received heavy minutes lately. And he hasn't disappointed.
What he brings to the table defensively is undeniable. His length and athleticism continually cause frustration for opponents. Such elements will be crucial in the playoffs, particularly in the waning sequences of games when defensive stoppers often prove decisive.
Furthermore, his offensive game is ascending at a rapid pace. Early in the season, he lacked confidence and typically only scored near the basket. Recently, he has showcased an adept mid-range jumper as well as a vastly improved three-point shot. During the month of March, he shot 42 percent from three-point range (up from 28 percent in February).
He is just in his second season and some may argue for Belinelli, once healthy, to be inserted late, because Belinelli is a more well-rounded offensive player. However, Butler's defense is far superior to Belinelli's, and with "Jimmy Buckets" solidifying improvements offensively, he now possesses the multi-dimensional repertoire suited for crunch time.
Plus, Butler surprisingly carries the highest offensive rating (1.07) on Chicago's roster, according to 82games.com. This serves as ample evidence that Butler isn't holding the Bulls back at all offensively, which amplifies why he's worthy to be amidst Chicago's clutch five.
It's difficult to leave Carlos Boozer off this list, because he's having his second straight productive regular season.
But all the evidence points towards Taj Gibson being a major difference-maker when he's on the floor.
According to 82games.com, Gibson leads the Bulls in plus/minus (+111) and is tied for the top defensive rating (1.01) with Noah and Kirk Hinrich.
What's more, he also boasts an offensive rating of 1.06, which only trails Butler.
Gibson simply provides too many intangibles to watch from the bench late in the fourth quarter. He doesn't have the post skill set of Boozer, but his defense is in another league.
Plus, he contributes efficiently on offense through his ability to finish near the rim, his steady 15-foot jumper and his constant activity on the offensive glass.
Boozer should definitely remain an instrumental factor in the playoffs, but Gibson is the power forward who should play in the game's most precious moments. His contributions to the Bulls are distinctly valuable, and the Bulls can only hope he's fully healthy come playoff time (he recently re-aggravated an MCL sprain).
The point guard position is initially rather fuzzy in this conversation.
Nate Robinson seemingly brings the most firepower offensively, with his ability to create his own shot and catch fire from long distance.
However, Robinson's defense is lackluster, and while his offensive is enthralling at times, it is also destructive on other occasions.
This is why the Bulls should go with who they can trust. That is Kirk Hinrich.
When Hinrich, Butler, Deng, Gibson and Noah are on the floor together, they create eye-opening production and efficiency.
According to 82games.com, their offensive rating as a unit is 1.16 and their defensive rating is 0.79. This reveals two things: 1) This group of five knows how to get buckets together, and 2) They comprise one of the stingiest defensive squads in the league.
With this in view, how can you possibly argue against this group, featuring Hinrich, playing late?
Some may lobby for Robinson to be inserted rather than Hinrich. There may be some situations where late timeouts enable the Bulls to trade defense for offense, where Robinson can come in for Hinrich when the Bulls hold possession.
Overall, though, Hinrich should serve as the team's floor general. He provides a plethora of contributions that don't show up on the stat sheet.
This is specifically magnified when looking at how plugging Robinson into this unit instead of Hinrich changes things. The offensive rating suddenly dips to 0.99 and the defensive rating rises mightily to 1.10, according to 82games.com.
Hinrich's decision-making and defense are significant to the noise Chicago can make in the postseason. All the evidence points in favor of him playing come crunch time.
All the evidence also points towards who the Bulls' clutch five should truly be: Noah, Deng, Butler, Gibson and Hinrich.