When Derrick Rose went down again it left Chicago without its star for the second season in a row. The Bulls could have packed it in and hoped for better luck next year but they had too much pride for that. Instead they continued to fight and have clawed their way to a playoff berth. It may not always be pretty but the current holders of fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings get the job done any way they can. Nothing exemplifies that more than vocal leader Joakim Noah showing his unique versatility night after night.
In previous seasons Noah’s name has frequently come up in trade rumors, as is customary for secondary stars when any team with lofty aspirations fails to reach the mark. However, this season with the injury of Rose, and the trade of Luol Deng, Noah has been elevated into the star role. He is not a big time scorer by any means, and he certainly does not have a pretty stroke, but he possibly does more for his team on a basketball court than any other player in the NBA.
Noah is a talented rebounder and a good shot blocker. He is both strong and athletic playing defense in the post and he has very good defensive awareness, knowing when to switch on and off of defensive assignments. But where he differs from the vast majority of big men is that he has the supreme kind of athleticism that allows him to guard virtually every position, something rarely seen in a man of his size. He can lock down on a star center like Dwight Howard, or he can move out to the wing and go toe to toe with LeBron James if need be.
On offense Noah does not score at a very high clip, though this season he is averaging a career high 12.4 points per game. Where Noah really impacts the offensive side of the ball is in two areas. The first being that he is a very efficient on the offensive glass. His athleticism and tenacity allow him to haul down offensive boards that lead to very important second chance points for the Bulls, a team that has trouble generating easy offense. The second impact Noah makes on the offensive end is with his passing. He is as good a passer as there is among big men in the NBA and sees the court much like a point guard. In Derrick Rose’s absence, Noah actually leads the team in assists with a staggering 5.1 per game, just another reason why he has made trips to the NBA All-Star Game over the last two seasons.
Where fans really see Noah showing off his unique versatility is when he makes a pretty pass that becomes a bucket. Or, when he lets that funky sidewinder jump shot swish the mesh for two points and then howl the whole way back down the court, occasionally turning his hands into six-shooters and then tucking them back into their holsters. He has become the vocal leader of the team, and when he gets fired up the rest of the Bulls usually follow suit.
The question is, can the Bulls truly go deep into the playoffs without their franchise player Derrick Rose? The answer is probably not. It is just too difficult for them to generate easy points, as without Rose, they do not have a player that can create mismatches and open up opportunities for everyone else. But the Bulls are a scrappy team made in the image of Tom Thibodeau’s philosophy of strong defense, and because of that they never go down easy. They always fight to the bitter end, and they will not be an easy out for any team that draws them in the NBA playoffs. And with their tough defense, as well as Noah showing off that unique versatility he has, they will, in the very least, make things very interesting.
Commentary by Kalen Skalesky