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Joakim Noah Saves Bulls' Chaotic Season

“I don’t like it,” Noah says. “No, I don’t like it. Because our MVP is not playing. We have one MVP, and that’s Derrick Rose. And it’s not about MVP’s, it’s about rings, and one day I hope that we can get one here.”

- Joakim Noah reaction on fans’ M-V-P chants for him

Noah has never been a man known for gaining recognition as the primary reason for his team’s outstanding play. Quite frankly, Noah isn’t comfortable in that role.

After the Chicago Bulls traded Luol Deng to Cleveland on January 7—in a deal that saved the Bulls $20 million—the Bulls have gone on a 22-11 run, improving to 36-29, good for fourth in the Eastern Conference.

Everyone figured the Bulls’ front office had essentially given up on the season and were gearing up for the upcoming NBA Draft while also saving money. Nobody realized that the Bulls’ most important asset, Tom Thibodeau, had other plans.

With the losses of Rose and Deng, the Bulls had lost two of their primary shot creators on offense. Thibodeau—known for getting the most out of his players—began to use Noah in more high post sets, allowing journeyman players like Mike Dunleavy, Kirk Hinrich,and even D.J. Augustin to revitalize their values. Almost a quarter of Noah’s offensive play is in this set , 20.5 percent, have been used by Noah’s high post game per Synergy. With the evolution of the NBA point guard, it is unprecedented to run so many offensive plays through big men, especially on the high post.

Compared to previous years where Noah’s usage rate never went above 17, his usage rate has shot up to an astounding 18.5 in his breakout year. Noah is the engine that runs in sync with the Bulls; when he falters, so does the entire team.

Averaging a career high of almost five assists per game as a center, Noah has shown the rest of the league how he has become one of the best passing big men. His PER has gradually risen throughout the season to an impressive 20.02.

“He’s the heart and soul of the basketball here,” Gregg Popovich told Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News of Noah. “The thing he does are varied. He doesn’t just rebound. He does a whole lot of things that make him very valuable.”  

Since Thibodeau has been at the helm of the Bulls, the main element that has led to constant success for the Bulls has been their high level of energy and commitment to detail. Noah’s second highest scoring chances are from offensive rebound, which leads to 1.09 points per play per Synergy. Usually when the focal rotation players on a team play with this level of energy, it becomes contagious and trickles down to the rest of the roster. The Bulls rank second in points allowed per 100 possessions at 100.7. Outside of five feet from the rim, opponent shooting drops to 37.4 percent.

Even Dwight Howard’s own coach, Kevin McHale, has endorsed Noah for Defensive Player of Year honors.

“He’s played very well,” McHale tells ESPNChicago reporter Scott Powers. “He should be defensive player of the year. He’s done a great job with these guys. They’ve been winning a lot just on his energy and effort, his kind of determination and toughness. Those are all qualities everybody appreciates.” 

Perhaps the most chaotic season for the Bulls—where injuries and trades defined their season—everyone figured they were left for dead. Noah’s defiance against losing runs in harmony with Thibodeau. In a league that has transformed into the rapid transition style, Thibodeau has somehow made halfcourt offense remain relevant through its tenacious defense. Since the beginning of the New Year, nobody could have predicted the Bulls quick turnaround led by the amazing evolution of Noah's game.

Jimmer Fredette Gets Ideal Second Swing In NBA With Bulls

With the Sacramento Kings buying out Jimmer Fredette’s contract, the Chicago Bulls took a flyer on the third-year guard out of BYU. After a disappointing start to his professional career, it’s still premature to write him off from becoming a productive NBA player. This change of scenery was needed and Fredette now has a chance to prove that he belongs in the NBA.

Fredette was an absolute scoring machine coming out of BYU. In his senior season, he was a consensus National Player of the Year after he averaged 28.9 points per game on 45 percent shooting and led BYU to a 32-5 record along with a Sweet 16 appearance. He broke the Mountain West record for points in a career and currently ranks 34th on the Division I all-time career scoring list. 

As the 10th overall pick in 2011 ahead of Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard and Iman Shumpert, the 6-foot-2 guard faced some lofty expectations in his rookie season. He struggled early on since his knock-down jumper that was in range after crossing half-court in college was no longer consistent. Fredette shot only 36 percent from three and averaged 7.6 points per game in 18.6 minutes of action. His following year was better, as he averaged 7.2 points in 14 minutes on 42 percent shooting from deep, but he didn’t seem to be in Sacramento’s long-term plans.

The Kings drafted guards Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum earlier this season and Fredette was limited to 11.3 minutes per game. In his limited time, however, Fredette has shown glimpses of becoming the type of player some had expected.

Fredette is averaging 5.9 points per game in his reduced action while shooting 48 percent from the field and 49 percent from three. His 16.8 Player Efficiency Rating ranks 20th among point guards this season, while his 56.6 percent effective field goal percentage ranks fifth.

Although this could be a very good move for both sides, Fredette should not be expected to suddenly begin to justify his lottery standing. He isn’t a good defender and struggles keeping quicker point guards in front. In addition, it’s still unknown whether he can play the point guard position or if he may only be successful off the ball. But with Tom Thibodeau running the show, Fredette’s offensive game gives him potential as a key bench player at either guard spot.

“The more shooting you have, the more it opens up the floor,” Thibodeau told Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune. “We want to open things up to attack off the dribble, with our cuts, things of that nature. We feel that is an area of need.”

Chicago is scoring just 101.3 points per 100 possession (28th in NBA) and shooting 34 percent from three as a team. But with the second best scoring defense in the NBA, Chicago is fourth in the Eastern Conference standings and is on track to have homecourt advantage in the first round.

“I’ve seen that he’s got talent,” Taj Gibson told Marc Stein of ESPN. “It’s just that the team he was on, he never really got a chance to do much because they’ve got the characters on that team where they don’t seem too serious, you know what I’m saying? Playing on strict, good teams kind of brings the best out of a player.”

As Fredette dons a new uniform, it will be interesting to see if Thibodeau and the Bulls can find a way to utilize him within their system. Talent is only visible through opportunity; and Fredette could seize his opportunity very soon.

The Eastern Conference At The Deadline

Thursday at the NBA trade deadline, we saw a total of 26 players, seven second round draft picks, and zero blockbuster trades. On Friday, we covered how the 10 players that ended up on West teams will shape the playoff race, and now we are looking at the 16 that were sent to the D-League…whoops, I meant the Eastern Conference.

While the Western teams made a few smart, calculated trades to improve depth (Steve Blake to the Warriors) and cut costs (possible buyout for Jason Terry from the Kings), the East had the biggest deals of the deadline. The East deals included the only two All-Stars dealt (Antawn Jamison and Danny Granger), the two best players (Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes), and the smartest player (Professor Andre Miller, PhD).

The Brooklyn Nets traded their disappointing – but playoff tested – guard, Jason Terry, for the Sacramento Kings' disappointing – and never played in a playoff game – guard, Marcus Thorton. Thorton, who once averaged 21.3 points per game, is a solid sixth man and capable of scoring in bunches when needed though he has struggled badly this season. He will likely provide relief for Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson down the stretch of the season. However, adding his extra $730,000 in salary means paying a ridiculous $3.3 million in tax, bringing their total to over $88 million on taxes alone…for a team that won’t get out of the first round.

The Cleveland Cavaliers traded for 76ers' center, Spencer Hawes. He will likely anchor their team right to where they were destined to be before they traded for him…the lottery. Hawes is a talented 7-footer who leads all centers in three-pointers made and percentage, is an elite passer for his position, a good scorer and rebounder, and a capable body on defense when he cares. Forced to play on a hapless Philadelphia team, Hawes had no reason to try over the past few months, but as he heads into free agency this offseason, expect his production to go back up for the Cavs. Despite the addition of Hawes and recently acquired Luol Deng, this team is unfortunately still coached by Mike Brown, suggesting they are likely doomed to miss the playoffs and then ultimately lose Hawes and Deng to free agency for nothing.

Professor Andre Miller, PhD left his classroom for winter break on December 30th and has been M.I.A. ever since. However, after being traded to the Washington Wizards, you can rest assured Professor Miller will be making a teaching once again. Miller, who was restless under indecisive rookie head coach Brian Shaw will be a capable backup behind John Wall, likely helping lead this Wizards team to homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The Charlotte Bobcats made a good deal at the trade deadline. Say it with me: “The Bobcats did something right.” They traded valuable but redundant point guard, Ramon Sessions to the Milwaukee Bucks along with Jeff Adrian for Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal. Ridnour is a terrific backup point guard who can play behind or with Kemba Walker, while Neal is an outstanding shooter who won an NBA Finals game last season by scoring 24 points in 25 minutes!

In the only move that might affect the NBA Finals this season, the Pacers trading former All-Star forward, Danny Granger to the 76ers for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. Turner is a do-it-all forward who has fallen out of favor league-wide because he has failed to live up to the hype of a second overall pick. Turner should play with the first unit as well as anchor the second for the Pacers. His ball handling will allow George Hill, Paul George and CJ Watson to get free and take uncontested shots while giving them insurance –albeit expensive at an $8.7 million qualifying offer or whatever long-term offer he receives – in case Lance Stephenson leaves in free agency. Additionally, Allen started in the playoffs only two seasons ago and is a capable big man off the bench. Most importantly, Larry “The Legend” Bird signed off on this trade, thus, it must be great.

The last set of trades involved the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks. Each team gave up players that weren’t part of their future and received cash, second round draft picks, and laundry service for a year in exchange for helping another team out. The Heat traded Roger Mason Jr. and cash for a pick they will likely never see in order to open a roster spot for Caron Butler (Tuff Juice wants to go home!). The 76ers, who were involved in a league-high four deals during the trade deadline ended up with five second round draft picks and five players that won’t be buying property in Philadelphia. Finally, the Hawks acquired Antawn Jamison from the Clippers and enough cash to take him out to a nice dinner before buying out his contract.

Compared to the four West teams that made a deadline deal, eight of the top ten Eastern franchises made a deal with only Chicago and Detroit remaining inactive. Whether this reflects the fragility of the Eastern Conference standings (5th place through 11th is separated by just 5.5 games), or the strength of the mighty teams in the West (3rd place in the East would be 10th in the West) is anyone’s guess. With that said, all these moves outside of Indiana and Miami are moot because none of them are making the Eastern Conference Finals.

Indiana Pacers Vs. Miami Heat, Round III starts May 20th – Get ready, America!

Fix It: Chicago Bulls

The Bulls have the best defensive coach in the NBA, elite defenders at four positions, and a defensive system that always puts them at the top of the table in terms of points per possession.

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Nets' Game 1 Win Shows Series To Be Decided By Health, Interior Scoring

The Bulls and Nets finished the regular season ranked as two of the slowest paced teams in the league, preferring to operate in halfcourt sets. As much as anything the series appears to be shaping up to be defined by health and interior scoring.

Bulls Playing On House Money Without Rose, Possibly Noah

The Bulls finished the season 5-5 over their final 10 games. While the record is disappointing, they know they're much better than they've played. Leaving the regular season behind, the Bulls are looking forward to getting the playoffs started and reminding everyone what they're capable of when healthy and focused.

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How Many Players Teams Acquire At Each Trade Deadline On Average

The Kings, Knicks, Rockets, Thunder and Cavaliers have been the most active teams at the deadline over the past decade, while the Spurs, Pistons, Heat, Lakers and Pacers have made the fewest deals.

Jimmy Butler Blossoming As Bullsí Ultimate Utility Man

Gaining the trust of Tom Thibodeau has been a process for Jimmy Butler, and last year he concentrated on showing the coach that heís always ready. Butler got off to a slow start this season, admittedly passing up shots and playing tense. Nevertheless, his minutes gradually increased, and his confidence followed.

Keith Bogans Briefly Pondered Return To Bulls In Offseason

For a brief moment last offseason, coming back to the Bulls looked like a realistic possibility for Keith Bogans. Ultimately, Bogans believed re-signing with the Nets fit him best.

Injured Brandon Jennings Concedes Bullsí Edge On His Homecourt

Brandon Jennings set a serious tone from the tip and played an excellent game Saturday, going for 23 points, seven assists and five steals, carrying the offense with Monta Ellis missing 10-of-17 shots and Ersan Ilyasova again disappearing.

Bulls Start Strong Against Soft Schedule

The Bulls remain strong defensively as expected, but scoring points without Rose will determine if the Bulls bounce around .500 this year or contend in the upper half of the Eastern Conference.

Leroux's 2012-13 NBA Tier Predcitions

While the drop-off from the Heat to the rest of the Eastern Conference is severe, the Lakers, Spurs and Thunder have quick company in the second and third tiers.

How Taj Gibson Agreed To His Last-Minute, $34M Extension

Mark Bartelstein hoped for the Bulls to meet somewhere in the middle of the two sidesí offers, and once he got a respectable proposal to take back to Taj Gibson, both player and agent discussed terms of the deal in a tense, cramped Bullsí locker room.

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