CHICAGO -- How important is Rip Hamilton to the Bulls' long-term success?
It's the question every fan and analyst has been trying to break down all season, especially given the fact that Hamilton came into Tuesday night's game against the New Orleans Hornets having only played in 11 of the Bulls' 35 pervious games this season. After Hamilton scored five points and dished out five assists in just 17 minutes, there is no doubt in Derrick Rose's mind just how potent the Bulls can be with him in the lineup.
"We're very dangerous," Rose said. "He's a guy that could post the ball if it's a smaller guard on him. Shoot the ball great. Knows how to get fouled. And just a smart player when he's out there. Plays smart, good passer. When he's out there, he's definitely, I think, the x-factor for our team."
No matter which Bulls player spoke after the game, he said pretty much the same thing about their 34-year-old teammate.
"To me, it's his decision making," said Bulls' forward Carlos Boozer. "Obviously, his skill is great. He can shoot the ball, pass the ball, makes good decisions off of pin-downs. But his decision making, to me, is what stands out for him. He does a great job of having poise, making the right pass. If he's open, he hits his shot almost every time. He's a good playmaker for us."
After missing a month of action due to continued groin and thigh problems, Hamilton was just happy to be back on the floor.
"I feel good," he said. "I felt great tonight. I felt energetic. I felt I was able to get to all my spots on the floor. I think that was the key thing; just trying to get to where my comfort zone is. It felt good with doing that."
In his mind, the key for the veteran sharpshooter is simply paying more attention to what his body is telling him.
"Just got to listen to my body," he said. "I think I'm stubborn when it comes to that. I just want to play. I just want to get out there and I want to play the whole game. It's not the case. I've got to really take my time and get out there and just try to get back in the swing of things."
Noah continues to impress: Joakim Noah rattled off 15 points and 16 rebounds Tuesday night and continues to play at the kind of level the Bulls were hoping he'd hit earlier in the year.
"A monster, man," Boozer said of Noah. "He's just getting the job done. I don't know how else to say that ... monster on the glass. Anchor of our defense. Scoring the ball. You see his jump shot, it's getting better and better every week with his offensive game, which is scary. He's been playing amazing."
For Rose, the difference in Noah's game is simple.
"His confidence," Rose said. "This game is all about confidence. When your confidence is down, you can tell the way somebody is playing. You can tell the way he's playing, where he's shooting his jump shot that he's been working on the entire year and last year. And it's falling for him."
While Noah is certainly happy he is playing better, he believes the key for everyone's success is that the Bulls are finally healthy once again.
"I think that's important," he said. "Just to have everybody playing. All these experiences that we're sharing together is going to make us grow as a team. I think that everybody's a huge contributor. We need everybody healthy and playing at a high level if we're going to do what we want to do."
The last word: "Just because we're the Chicago Bulls doesn't mean that we're going to win every game by 30. Guys are good. This is the NBA. We know that we have a ways to go. We have to play better to get to where we want to get to," — Joakim Noah.