When Bulls center Joakim Noah was taken with the ninth pick of the 2007 Draft, no one could envision the big man from Florida would crack the top-15 players in the NBA. Hell, even now that he’s accomplished the feat it’s still hard to believe.
Noah’s 2013-14 season saw him go from a fringe All-Star to a First-Team All-NBA, legit MVP candidate who carried an injury-riddled Bulls team to the Playoffs. Over 80 games, Noah averaged 12.6 points, 11.3 boards, 5.4 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. After two straight years of pre-season promise crushed by injury, the Bulls are absolutely loaded, and Noah is hoping to turn last year’s success into a championship run.
Compared to the rest of the #SLAMTop50, Noah’s game sticks out like a sore thumb. Nothing the 7-foot center does can be described as “graceful.” He owns the ugliest jumper in the League, his post moves are awkward and his on-court personality certainly doesn’t make up for any shortcomings.
For lack of a better term, he’s an asshole.
An on-court agitator, Noah frequently clashes with opposing players, unapologetically chews out referees, beefs with arena personnel and openly admits to not liking any other players in the NBA—a stark contrast from many who publicly admire and team up with their colleagues. The season hasn’t even started yet and Noah has already cost himself $15,000 by getting into an altercation with Paul Pierce during a pre-season game earlier this week. Frankly, he’s the guy you absolutely hate to see your team play against but would take on your squad any day of the week.
As much as he can piss off an opposing players and fanbases, Noah is one of the most widely respected players in the League. No one in the NBA plays harder than Joakim on both ends of the floor. When Derrick Rose went down with another knee injury last season, Noah didn’t make any excuses for himself or his teammates. Instead, he came out every night and gave it his all-out effort en route to career-high offensive numbers and the Defensive Player of the Year award. No stranger to playing hurt, Noah revealed that he had been playing on a damaged knee and needed arthroscopic surgery after getting bumped in the Playoffs.
As much as he’s admired for his grit and hustle on the defensive end, Noah’s stats and output on offense were damn near as impressive on offense. From December 28, 2013 to February 1, 2014, he put together 18-straight games of 10-plus rebounds that only ended because he was kicked out of a game early for arguing with the refs. He’s among the top—if not the best—passing big men in the NBA and as ugly as his game is most of the time, it is an absolute joy to watch him grab a rebound, lead a one-man fast break and hit a wing player with a perfect bounce pass for an easy layup or finish by himself.
Last season, Noah finished the month of March with 120 assists, the most in one month since Wilt Chamberlain’s 155 in March of 1968. Noah also became the first center since Brad Miller in 2005-06 to amass 10-plus assists three times in a season and became the first center to drop 13 dimes in a game since Vlade Divac did so in April of ‘96.
The 2014-15 season must feel like deja vu for the Bulls. Once again the team’s point guard is coming off of a season-ending knee injury. Once again the Bulls are one of the favorites to win the East and the Finals. And once again, this season rides on the team’s health. As great as Noah was last season, it was just the second time in seven seasons he played 80 games. Plagued by plantar fasciitis and coming off a knee injury, the 29-year-old Noah will get some help up front with the addition of Pau Gasol. But Thibs’ habit of keeping his rotation short, will lead to Noah logging heavy minutes again this season. Noah has to stay healthy if the Bulls are to go as far as they believe they can and with his injury history and big minutes ahead, the Bulls’ training staff will be working overtime.
The hype and expectations surrounding the Bulls entering the season are as high as they have been since MJ was running the Windy City. If the Noah and the Bulls can’t get it done this season, will this group ever?
|#SLAMTop50 Players 2014|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’14-15—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.