Bulls C Joakim Noah enters the 2013-2014 season not only as an integral part of a core that hopes to win a ring within the next few years, but also as the anchor of a team that has dealt with their fair share of injuries. Noah was the heart and soul of Thibodeau’s defense-first Bulls even before last season; over the 2012-2013 season he emerged as a leader.
Noah gave it his all every minute he was on the floor. As expected, as usual. In the 66 games he stepped on the floor, Noah averaged 11.4 pts/game, 11.1 rebs/game, and 2.1 blks/game. Don’t forget his 4 assts/game and the 1+ steal per game. He made the most of his nearly 37 min/game, even notching a historic triple-double.
In a game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Feb. 28, 2013, the Bulls coasted to a 93-82 victory behind Noah’s triple-double. Noah had 23 points, 21 rebound and a career-high 11 blocked shots. He tied Artis Gilmore’s Bulls record (1977) for most blocks in a regular season game. It was a sign of how he would player the rest of the season, being the one consistent source of productive play all season.
For Centers, Noah ranked second in assists per game, second in offensive rebounds per game, third in steals, and fourth in blocks and rebounds per game. Any team will gladly take a 75 percent free-throwing shooting Center. Where Noah can improve on is his FG% – he hovered around 48 percent for the season and dropped to below 45 in the playoffs. We can expect his shooting percentage to go up a few notches next season as Rose’s dribble-drive will get Noah a couple more easy buckets each night.
All numbers aside, we can all agree that Noah’s impact on a game is often seen away from the stat-sheet. His energy, perseverance, and sheer will helped the Bulls compete in more games than most expected them to. With Rose out all season, the likes of Luol Deng, Nate Robinson, and Taj Gibson being in and out due to a variety of injuries, and Boozer just being Boozer, Noah fought through his own plantar fasciitis to keep the Bulls’ heads above water. And then some.
We’re a team of fighters. We keep getting punched in the face but we fight back. I’m proud of this team, and we’re going to go into a hostile environment in Brooklyn and we’re going to win. – Joakim Noah prior to Game 7 vs Brooklyn Nets, 2013 Playoffs
In game seven of the first round vs the Brooklyn Nets, Noah had one special performance. Leading the Bulls to victory, Noah finished with 24 points, 14 rebounds, and 6 blocks. According to the Elias Stats Bureau, Noah is just the fifth player in NBA history (Kevin Garnett, Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Elvin Hayes) with at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in a Game 7 win.
Maybe what makes Noah one of the best centers in the league is just how polarizing he can be – players love playing alongside a pest like Noah, but absolutely hate playing against him. His size won’t beat you, nor will his speed. But he will fight for position on the floor, talk trash to the other team’s best players, and be just as physical regardless of who the opponent is that night.
So as Bulls fans await the return of Derrick Rose, hopeful that the once-MVP can bring Chicago back to the top of the East, we will once again underrate the impact of Joakim Noah. No matter how well Rose plays this season, it’ll be up to Noah to provide the defense, rebounding, and hustle to keep the Bulls competitive in a conference that includes the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, and Brooklyn Nets. And as he has done throughout his career, Noah will do his job wonderfully. This time with more confidence and determination than ever before.