Joakim Noah, D.J. Augustin Continue to Lead Chicago Bulls' January Tear

By Brian Neal
Joakim Noah D.J. Augustin
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

When New Year’s Day rolls around, most people make some resolutions which — if they kept — could actually really help them change and better themselves as a person. But as in all cases, and any wanna-be shrink could tell you this, change has to come within and the individual really has to want it in order to make it happen.

Twenty-one days into 2014, it seems that one group of people in particular have been determined to change and kept their resolutions so far, and that would be the Chicago Bulls.

The Bulls were only 12-18 during the 2013 portion of this NBA season. They were struggling mightily, even at their strength, which is defense. And there’s no question that the loss of Derrick Rose for likely the entire year was certainly a major factor in their downward spiral.

However, it’s clear that something has changed in this team. Since January began, the Bulls have a league-best (tied with three other teams) 8-2 record, and even though every win hasn’t been pretty, they’ve gotten back to what’s made them great in years past. They’re playing stout defense and coming together as a team, despite having their “glue,” Luol Deng, traded away Jan. 7, and ultimately just finding ways to win games.

Two players specifically have been major reasons for this occurrence: Joakim Noah and D.J. Augustin.

In the last 10 games — all played in January — Noah has averaged 14.9 points, 14.7 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.9 blocks per game. Quite honestly, there hasn’t been a better center in the league since the new year began. And his impact in terms of keeping the team together, focused and ready to go every game is virtually impossible to put into words.

As for Augustin, I wrote an article a little under two weeks ago about how he’s suddenly made the Bulls competitive again, and that hasn’t changed. In the amount of time previously mentioned, he’s averaging 14.6 points, 6.3 assists and only 1.9 turnovers per game while shooting 40.4 percent from beyond the arc.

Despite those solid numbers, including a season-high 27 points in a 102-100 OT win over the Los Angeles Lakers last night, his biggest contributions to the Bulls have most certainly been his playmaking and decision-making abilities. Once Rose went down with the meniscus tear, there was no question that the guard play was going to suffer in Chicago with essentially Kirk Hinrich as the only reliable player to run the offense. But thanks to a blessing in disguise, the Toronto Raptors waived the then under-performing Augustin to make room on their roster after the Rudy Gay trade. The Bulls were the lucky ones to acquire his services, and his addition has brought new life into the organization.

Is this team a championship-caliber squad? No. But they do once again play admirable Chicago basketball that every Bulls fan can now watch and appreciate, much like last year’s team.

So, how long will their success last? With most New Year’s resolutions, many may give up on their goals by February. In the case of this Bulls team, I don’t see that happening. They’ll stay determined and resilient until at least mid-May, as they’ve now firmly replanted themselves as one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference once more.

Brian Neal is an NFL and NBA contributor for Follow him on Twitter @brianneal23, “Like” him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google+.

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