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Chicago Bulls (15-10) at Atlanta Hawks (15-9): It’s Like Looking in a Mirror

December 22nd, 2012 at 5:29 PM
By Brian Schroeder

A matchup of two eerily similar Eastern Conference "contenders" sees the return of Kyle Korver into our lives at 7 PM.

These two teams are separated by a mere game in the Eastern Conference standings, and both are succeeding despite offseason rebuilding projects. The Hawks finally parted ways with Joe Johnson and his giant contract, trading him to the Nets in the offseason. His replacements have been former Bull Kyle Korver and former Sixer Lou Williams, both of whom have been playing fantastically this season (better than Joe Johnson has in Brooklyn). These two teams have similar profiles, both being Top 10 in opponent FG%, opponent PPG and total point differential. The major difference is that, like most teams, the Hawks are significantly better at shooting the three, while, again like most teams, they're a worse rebounding squad than the Bulls.

After last night's wild win in New York, the Bulls made the trip to Atlanta, and will probably be operating at something less than full strength (as Luol Deng can attest to). This is hardly a new development, as the single great trademark of the Thibodeau Era has been his team's ability to compete and win despite not being at full strength (come to think of it, has a Bulls squad ever been fully healthy in Thibs' tenure?). Regardless, whatever minutes Jimmy Butler, Marquis Teague and the dearly departed Nazr Mohammed can give will certainly help. Jimmy's a significant part of the rotation at this point, but it's anyone's guess as if to Teague or Mohammed will play. Also, Carlos Boozer playing more than 25 minutes would be a plus, as it might stop Thibs from resorting to playing Deng at the 5 like he did for the last few minutes of the fourth quarter in New York.

Key Matchup: Marco Belinelli vs. Kyle Korver

One of the most notable casualties this offseason was Kyle Korver, traded to the Atlanta Hawks for a trade exception that will almost certainly not be used. He was replaced, in both lineup and function, by Marco Belinelli, whom Bulls fans spent nearly three months hearing is a "significant upgrade" over the dearly departed sharpshooter.  While this was laughable prospect during the first few weeks of the season, since Rip Hamilton went down with a foot injury, Belinelli is playing very well, enough to call to question the Bulls' original assertion.

A cursory investigation of basketball-reference.com shows us that while Korver is shooting a higher percentage from deep (44.2% to Belinelli's 41.4%), Belinelli is more successful from the line (87.9% to 81.0%). These are hardly huge advantages, as both players have been very efficient shooters in general (Belinelli has a .559 TS% while Korver's stands at a mammothian .616). Where the two players differ is on the rebounding end, where Korver has a 3.8 to 2.0 advantage (also holding a 7.7 to 4.7 edge in TRB%). 

However, in Belinelli's defense, he is a much more prolific shooter and scorer around the rim, where he has taken 22% of his total shots as opposed to Korver's 6%. While this gives some credence to the claim that Belinelli is a more versatile scorer than Korver, it's important to note that the vast majority of Marco's success has come with him in a starting role, which is not what he was signed to be (nor was it what Korver was in Chicago). These two probably won't be guarding one another much tonight, but if Belinelli can outproduce his predecessor, it will greatly improve the Bulls' chances at victory. If Belinelli's team leading 45 minutes of play last night were any indication, he'll get more than enough time to prove himself.

Tags: Atlanta Hawks, Chicago, Chicago Bulls, Kyle Korver, Luol Deng, Marco Belinelli, NBA

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