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Joakim Noah's return about a week away, and it should come at a good time.  Noah coming back into the starting line-up is comparable to the Bulls making a big-time trade before the deadline.  The Bulls have played very well in his absense, going 21-8 since December 15th.  

Who's been the key to this 21-8 start? 

Everyone is quick to give the credit to Kurt Thomas, but how good has Thomas really been?  Statistically, he's been slightly better than Keith Bogans, posting a 10.68 PER.  Slightly better than Bogans isn't very good, nor is a 10.68 PER, but he's been serviceable.  If we look at the games the Bulls have lost in this 29-game stretch, you'll see that they could have used some production out of the center position.  I don't think you play Kurt more than 5-10 minutes when Noah returns.  

I think the more impressive player has been Omer Asik.  Asik has a higher PER (11.46) than Thomas, but has also played very well of late.  Asik has 7.5 rebounds per game in his last four, despite playing only 55 minutes.  Still, he hasn't been a huge factor for the Bulls, but he's played well enough to keep Gar Forman from moving him to Houston for Courtney Lee.  I still think you play Asik over Thomas as the backup center, though.  

Luol Deng had a good December, a decent January, and a pretty good February thus far.  He hasn't necessarily raised his play after the Noah injury, so I don't think you can attribute the solid record to Deng.  Same goes for Boozer - he's been Carlos Boozer, but he hasn't produced more to off-set the Noah injury.

The biggest reason for the stellar play without Noah has been Derrick Rose.  Rose has carried his play into MVP conversation, and his name will be there until the very end.   

So what happens when Noah comes back?  KC Johnson said the Bulls want to play more up-tempo, which should help Rose get more fast break opportunities, and lead to more layups and a better field goal percentage.  Sorry, that's just me trying to be selfish to get Derrick's shooting percentage up, which would boost his win shares.  But really, the Bulls are lethal in transition.  We all know about Derrick, but Ronnie Brewer is extremely athletic.  There's no reason to believe Noah can't beat his man down the floor every time.  Carlos can run with the team, too.  Then, there's Luol and Korver, who are dangerous on the secondary break, and can be found for wide open looks.  

I don't know about any of you, but I'm excited for Noah's return.  With only two games separating Chicago from Miami and Boston, the #1 seed is in the Bulls reach.  Whether they can get it or not remains to be seen, but I like their chances when Noah comes back healthy.