SLAM Top 50: Joakim Noah, no. 41

Like most of his teammates, Joakim Noah will enter the 2015-16 with a lot to prove.

After knee surgery last summer to remove cartilage, Noah didn’t begin the season in the shape he would have preferred to. With having a game that’s built on hustle and activity, not having the full mobility to do so made for a rollercoaster-like season for Chicago’s high-energy big man.

Along with having to adjust to the knee issue and a minute restriction, the addition of Pau Gasol meant Noah moving away from the basket on defense to chase around more versatile forwards.

Add Jimmy Butler’s emergence on offense and Derrick Rose acclimating himself back into the swing of things and it’s not surprising, that most of Noah’s numbers were the lowest they had been in almost five seasons.

Throughout all of the personal adversity and sacrifices that needed to be made for the betterment of the team, Noah never made any excuses for his struggles during what was an uphill battle for him.

“Injuries suck,” said Noah last month at an event where kids from his Noah’s Arc Foundation were outfitted with adidas apparel for back to school. “If you’re an athlete, when you’re out there you want to feel good. Sometimes you take your health for granted. It definitely put a lot of things into perspective for me. Now, I’m a lot more focused and very excited.

“The biggest change is I’m feeling a lot better. I’m feeling strong and I’m just ready to rumble. Last year was a tough year for us. Sometimes humbling is good.”

Humbling is putting it lightly after the Bulls’ lethargic exit to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. This, with the Cavs’ All-Star guard playing on one knee, All-Star power forward out for the Playoffs and enigmatic sixth man suspended for the first two games.

Perhaps the silver lining for Noah and the Bulls coming into this season is the fact that the expectations around them won’t ever reach the highs they were last season.

There’s a new voice at the helm in Fred Hoiberg. His offensive system is sure to revitalize all the players as there will be more pushing the pace in transition and lots of early offense. Noah’s passing should be a key component in most of the sets ran.

While the expectations might not be high, there will be a lot at stake this season.

This could very possibly be Noah’s final season in Chicago, as he’s entering the final season of a fifth-year deal. The Bulls’ Championship window only appears to be ever slowly coming to a close with LeBron James and a retooled Cavs team remaining an imminent roadblock in an improved Eastern Conference.

Never one lacking for motivation, Noah will enter this season as he’s done the previous eight: hungry.

“I haven’t felt healthy in a long time,” he said. I’m really just excited to come in and prove myself again.”


SLAM Top 50 Players 2015
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Rajon Rondo Kings PG 14
49 Giannis Antetokounmpo Bucks SF 9
48 Rudy Gobert Jazz C 9
47 Al Jefferson Hornets C 8
46 DeMar DeRozan Raptors SG 7
45 Goran Dragic Heat PG 13
44 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 11
43 Jeff Teague Hawks PG 12
42 Bradley Beal Wizards SG 6
41 Joakim Noah Bulls C 7

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2015-16—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.