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Bulls Tue Jan 29 2013

Bulls at Season's Midpoint; a Glass Half Fulfilled

Bulls_200.pngAt a game well over .500, Bulls fans are drinking the squads' Kool-Aid that's enriched with vitamin-D(efense). However, the glass was half empty in the beginning of the season. The consensus among sports writers, before this season tipped off, was that the Derrick Rose-less Bulls would finish the season anywhere as low as the eighth and as high as a fifth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff seeding. Instead the Bulls are a pinch past the halfway mark of the campaign and just two and a half games out of first place. The battle for post-season positioning will become less oppressive with the Bulls gaining an offensive All-Star during the All-Star break.

Though at first he will be in the unfamiliar guise of a pass-first, jump-shoot second point guard, Rose will return with Bulls sometime in February. It would be almost condescending to reflect and praise the Bulls for what they accomplished in the first half of the year without their superstar, instead, as I'm sure is the teams mantra, it's best to focus on how the team can get better. There's room for each player on this hard-capped roster to augment their game positively.

Nate Robinson: Would it be too much to ask to get you to commit at least one less turnover and/or shoot one less fast-break-pull-up three pointer a game?

Time to make dinner reservations at some expensive West Loop restaurant fellas, Valentine's Day is approaching. In the spirt of the holiday, I'll use a dating analogy to explain Robinson. Robinson is the person you think you can change. You make excuses about why he's good for you, but only because he's so much fun to be around. Robinson's been committed to five different relationships in eight years. He's a great "in the moment" guy, but you certainly can't build your future around him. He is who you thought he is. Though he may not be "the one," he'll be an important part in all Bulls fans lives when Rose is back running the point, allowing the Bulls to play Robinson at shooting guard -- where you can forgive his mistakes.

Joakim Noah: Attack the rim.

Noah is averaging four assists per game, which is good enough for second on the team behind Kirk Hinrich. Noah is shooting 75% from the charity stripe but only attempting four free throws a game. Overall he's shooting 47% from the field, the lowest rate since his rookie season, but he's taking three more shots per game compared to his career averages. He'll be shooting less when Rose returns, so he has to get higher percentage shots to stay confident on offense and not defer to being just a defensive stalwart. Shot chart metric website Vorped, typifies where Noah's connecting more often than not from. Noah should continue to put the ball on the floor, and like those in hockey do, charge the iron and a second chance opportunity will be awaiting if the initial shot doesn't fall.

Marco Belinelli: Play on, Player.

It may be too early to give Marco the nomenclature of "Big Shot Beli" after his two game-winning shots in one week, but it's OK for Belinelli to play as he is. Belinelli can create his own, albeit at times off-balance, shot, which is something this team lacks at the shooting guard position. With the emergence of wing Jimmy Butler, the in-season acquisition of three-point specialist Daequan Cook, and Rose's return, Belinelli is going to have to condense his memorable moments into less minutes.

Carlos Boozer: Stay consistent when you're back to being the third scoring option.

Boozer has been great in the month of January, even winning a Player of the Week award. It's expected that he'll come back to earth, but as long as he continues to give the Bulls 15 points and nine boards a game, the Bulls will keep winning. Boozer has been up and down in his stint with the Bulls when he's not counted on to lead the team in scoring.

Kirk Hinrich: Welcome back! Now back to basics.

The lowly Hinrich was woeful to start out the year, but now his three is falling and he's dishing out five assists with only one turnover per game. In January, Hinrich has shot 47% from the arc. Though he's white hot, it seemed in November the Bulls made a big mistake acquiring Hinrich. To keep spinning the broken record, once Rose returns, it'll be interesting to see Hinrich's role. At first, I predict it'll be a three-man point-guard platoon with Rose, Robinson and Hinrich, to rest Rose as much as possible. Once Rose is playing 30 minutes a game, I expect to see a lot of two-point guard sets, although all three players are hybrid combo guards.

Luol Deng: Keep doing everything that you keep doing.

Outside of irrational requests to stay healthy and shoot threes at a higher tick than 34%, Deng needs to stay the player he's been his whole career. He's gotten better every season, and this year he's learned how to lead his team. He's made the All-Star team in seasons with and without Rose. Deng just needs to treat the offensive side of the ball with as much intensity as he's done on defense, but at this stage of his career, I'll take his awesome but limited all-around game.

Rip Hamilton: Only shoot midrange jumpers in the middle of the game.

Using Basketball-Reference.com's shot chart splits*, it's clear that Hamilton isn't the same shooter he used to be. From 16-feet to the three point line, Hamilton is shooting 45%. From everywhere else not in close proximity to the basket, Hamilton is a 39% field goal shooter. In the forth quarter, he seems to disappear, shooting only 20%. Now, while these are just interesting statistics, it speaks more that the Bulls can't count on Hamilton to score consistently in the clutch, like they thought they would when the signed him as a free agent two years ago.

*Hamilton's advanced stats prior to game vs Bobcats Monday night.

Jimmy Butler: Keep making it hard for Coach Thibodeau to not give you more minutes.

Against the Bobcats on Monday, Butler scored a career high 19 points to lead the Bulls in scoring off the bench, after filling in as a starter for five games since Luol Deng went down with a hamstring injury. In his last six contests he's averaged 15 points, eight rebounds, while shooting 48%. In Monday's broadcast Stacey King and Neil Funk discussed how the versatility of having Deng and Butler on the court at the same time is a great thing for the Bulls. Also, Thibodeau now has trust in Butler, so Deng may not have to play his league-leading average of 38 minutes in every game. Whether at shooting guard or small forward, the second year Butler is crucial to the Bulls' playoff push.

If these players don't change a thing, the Bulls will still win a lot of games. To think that this unit may grow stronger with Rose back piques the interest of what this team could be. With the Blackhawks 6-0 and the Bulls on a roll, it's going to be a fun spring at the Madhouse on Madison.

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