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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Joe Cowley

With Paris in the rearview mirror, it’s time for Bulls first-half awards

The Bulls needed something — anything — in the aftermath of the embarrassment they suffered Dec. 18 in Minneapolis.

Leave it to veteran guard Goran Dragic to provide the Heat check.

While spending seven seasons in Miami, Dragic learned tough love sometimes needs to come out of the locker room and be made public.

That’s why he had no problem coming out after the Bulls gave up 150 points to the Timberwolves and saying, ‘‘We’re not playing for each other . . . simple as that.’’

The Bulls have gone 10-6 since then, and coach Billy Donovan doesn’t think it’s merely a coincidence that they have been making an effort to play for each other more consistently during that span.

‘‘I say you confront it, you call it out and you try to expose it,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘And I appreciated Goran saying what he said because, at the time, I think there was a lot of accuracy to what he was saying.’’

That’s why Dragic deserves the award for Most Pivotal Moment of the First Half.

With the Bulls just past the halfway mark of their season, here are the rest of the first-half awards:

MVP: DeMar DeRozan

While the ‘‘maestro of the mid-range’’ has seen his scoring dip slightly from last season, he also has done a good job of adjusting to how teams are playing him.

As he did for most of the second half of last season, DeRozan is seeing double-teams and blitzes coming more frequently. But it didn’t take him long to flex his high basketball IQ and come up with a counter. That means showing opposing defenses just how dangerous he can be as a playmaker.

In the 20 Bulls victories in which DeRozan has played, his scoring average is down from last season at 24.9 points, but his assists are way up at 5.6. And as far as the fourth quarter goes, he’s still the closer, shooting 47.4% from the field in the period.

Most Improved: Patrick Williams

Williams, the No. 4 overall pick in 2020, was expected to make a jump as a scorer this season but not the way he has done it. Williams has become the best three-point shooter on the roster, sitting at 42.1% from long range.

More important, his scoring numbers have gone up in three of the last four months and he looks much more comfortable in the framework of the offense.

The one complaint about Williams’ game is that he should be grabbing more than 4.1 rebounds a game, especially at 6-7 and a solid 215 pounds.

Most Underappreciated: Nikola Vucevic

Bulls fans love to pile on Vucevic when things are going poorly, even though he has sacrificed more than anyone on the roster. He’s shooting 52.1% from the field this season after 47.3% last season, and his three-point percentage has climbed from 31.4% last season to 37.4%.

He’s also a perfect fit for DeRozan’s and Zach LaVine’s games, willing to abandon the paint and be a threat from outside so both have room to operate at the rim.

Biggest Mystery of the Second Half: Lonzo Ball and the Trade Deadline (tie)

Ball’s return from two knee surgeries in the last year would go a long way toward covering up many of the Bulls’ biggest weaknesses, but it’s more likely they won’t have him this season. What the Bulls do at the deadline might be a reflection of that reality because they need a true point guard.

As far as whether DeRozan, LaVine or Vucevic will be dealt or whether the Bulls will decide to blow up their roster, both are very unlikely. If anything, they might make a minor tweak.

Stay tuned, however, because the next few weeks might change some minds in the front office.

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