by Dr. L.A. Gabay

Joakim Noah plays different, looks different and his personal narrative is unique for an NBA player. He’s the kind of guy you want to hate unless he’s on your team. Then he’s your hero. You can’t teach height and you can’t fake passion. Noah has both. The way he runs, shoots and takes each play personally is enigmatic.

Since leading Florida in back-to-back NCAA Championships, the ninth pick in the 2007 Draft has proven the haters wrong and Malcolm Gladwell right: Whatever Noah may lack in talent, he more than compensates for in bountiful energy and relentlessness.

Coming off his first All-Star year (averaging 12 points, 11.1 rebounds, 4 assists, 2.1 blocks—even laboring two triple-doubles), Noah has become the first Chicago Bulls center to achieve such a feat since Artis Gilmore in 1977. The All-Defensive First-Team selection rarely spends time on the bench, averaging almost 37 minutes a game last season, and when he does, it seems as if he’s still in the game. Equally animated on and off court, he doesn’t distinguish between playing on his team and supporting them. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau’s macro approach to the ’13-14 campaign is to be vigilantly mindful when pacing Noah, closely monitoring his minutes to have him fresh for May and June.

Picture last spring. Round 1, Game 7. Against the Nets with half the Bulls roster down, and Noah essentially running on one wheel (due to plantar fasciitis), he elevated his team and star status by dropping 24 and grabbing 14 boards. Living up to his team name in round 2, he chased the Heat up and down the court and sent them scrambling like scared tourists in Pamplona. He averaged almost a double-double throughout the loudly contested five-game series.

Noah’s version of Bulls have held together for a while, and this is really their year to live up to the hype. With his best friend and League MVP Derrick Rose back, the other teams will once again trap and try to get the ball out of Rose’s hands. This gives Noah, the emerging Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and the deep Bulls’ roster plenty of space—and opportunities—to thrive. Chicago is experienced and healthy enough to legitimately challenge the Heat while still being young and tough enough to slow down the formidable Pacers.

During the offseason, Noah worked out in his typical “Noah” manner—yoga with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and training with professional surfer Laird Hamilton. Those workouts with Hamilton include under-water jumps with 50-pound dumb bells. Noah claims they were “explosive” underwater jumps and further elaborates, “The more you train, the less you party.”

It should be noted that Noah has, arguably, the ugliest looking shot in the NBA. When he releases the ball it looks like he’s shoving a beach ball toward the stage at a Phish concert. But, like every other weird part of Jo No’s game, it’s his and it works.

Where should Joakim Noah rank in the SLAM Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2013
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Monta EllisMavsSG5
49Luol DengBullsSF10
48Ricky RubioTWolvesPG14
47Greg MonroePistonsPF12
46Kawhi LeonardSpursSF9
45Mike ConleyGrizzliesPG13
44Al JeffersonBobcatsC9
43David LeeWarriorsPF11
42Jrue HolidayPelicansPG12
41Anthony DavisPelicansPF10
40Joe JohnsonNetsSG4
39Serge IbakaThunderPF9
38Kevin GarnettNetsPF8
37Rudy GayRaptorsSF8
36Paul PierceNetsSF7
35Ty LawsonNuggetsPG11
34Pau GasolLakersPF7
33Al HorfordHawksC8
32Andre IguodalaWarriorsSF6
31Brook LopezNetsC7
30Zach RandolphGrizzliesPF6
29DeMarcus CousinsKingsC6
28Damian LillardBlazersPG10
27Josh SmithHawksSF5
26Joakim NoahBullsC5

Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’13-14—to players’ team, the League and the game.