INDIANAPOLIS— “Nah, I don’t know about all that,” Joakim Noah said. “Far from that, actually.”
In the wake of back-to-back 20-point scoring games—23 and 21, to be exact—the Bulls’ All-Star center was talking about becoming a scorer.
While he’s correct in terms of him being unlikely to ever develop into a consistent, traditional go-to scoring option, Noah has proven that simply due to his frenetic style of play, he can do just about anything he sets his mind to on the basketball court.
Whether that’s double-figure blocked shots or assists in the midst of notching a triple-double or less-gaudy statistical totals while still making a similar impact on the game, without superstar Derrick Rose on the floor, the now-elite NBA center is, no pun intended, the center of attention on a nightly basis, just because of his effort, energy and emotion.
“I try to do that every night,” he said. “I just try to play with emotion, play with passion. That’s my game.”
But when asked again about his increased offensive production recently, Noah predictably deferred.
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“Just opportunity. Just diving harder to the basket, my teammates looking for me,” he said, clearly uncomfortable with the topic. “I’m not really doing anything different than I’ve been doing. It’s just stats, I guess.
“Every game is different,” Noah continued. “We’ve just got to keep getting better and keep improving.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau had a more technical explanation.
“Well, we needed it and the way he’s playing is really inspiring to the rest of the team,” he explained. “It’s his activity. I think it’s his screening and stepping, running the floor.”
More than his scoring, Thibodeau has been impressed by how Noah, regardless of his numbers, helped pull the Bulls out of their February malaise with monster performances.
“I think any time you see a guy make great effort plays, it not only inspires, it unites and it makes everyone get on board with it. Any time you see a big-time hustle play, I think that’s what motivates a team. Often times, when people talk about emotion, well, I think emotion comes from that. I think people recognize—certainly his teammates and coaches—when you see a multiple-effort, great effort play and often times, it’s all the small things that could lead to winning.
"A loose ball here, a loose ball there, a charge, a blocked shot and often times, the block puts you in the open floor. Live ball, gets you an easy score. What he’s doing on the floor is the best leadership you can have,” he said. “I thought he was nicked up [before the All-Star break]. I thought the time off was good for him. I thought the experience was good for him at the All-Star Game. I thought he came back highly motivated to play and as I said, I still think there’s a lot of room for growth," he added.
Teammate Carlos Boozer concurred: “Joakim is a monster, man. I’m so proud of him. He’s playing unbelievable, at a super-high level, scoring, rebounding, assisting, holding the paint down, blocking shots. He’s playing unbelievable. I’m so impressed, man.
“I’ve never played with a center that can do the things that Jo can do. Every night, though. A lot of games, he leads us in assists. What center does that? He might be the most unique center in the game. He can score, he can rebound, he can block shots, he can set the offense up, great free-throw shooter. I think he might be the most unique center that we’ve had, definitely in Bulls history,” he added. “[Noah’s scoring is] big time because most people don’t expect Jo to shoot the ball, but when he’s aggressive and he’s going to the hoop, and he’s hitting his jump shot, teams don’t know what to do…in my opinion, that makes us more dangerous, when he’s offensively aggressive.
“I don’t know a better defender than him because he guards one through five. At the end of the game, we do a lot of switching and Joakim’s on the point guard or their best scorer, and usually does a great job locking him up. He definitely should win Defensive Player of the Year.
While he won’t claim personal responsibility for the Bulls’ recent improved play, Noah attributes the team’s overall health—despite Taj Gibson and Rip Hamilton, not to mention Rose, being out of the lineup currently—to their success as of late.
“I think it’s all of us collectively. I think we’re playing with better energy, with more purpose. I think that’s good. Guys are coming back, guys are playing healthy,” he said. “It’s good to have ‘Cap’ [Kirk Hinrich] back, Nate’s playing at a high level, Lu and Carlos are playing at a high level. I think when all my teammates are playing like that, definitely it helps me.
“[I’m] always a little bit banged up, but everybody is at this point of the year,” Noah continued when asked about his own health. “Just working on it [the lingering plantar fasciitis in his right foot] every day, just getting massages, just getting a lot of different treatments. Doing everything possible to keep that under control.
“It’s definitely, definitely physical. Definitely both, but some days it’s not really right after the game, but the next morning is usually the roughest.”
His comments about Thibodeau not understanding the concept of rest aside, nobody expects Noah to take a break anytime soon.
The center’s scoring will probably take a dip and it’s improbable that he snatches 20-plus rebounds on a regular basis—and far less likely that he blocks 11 shots in a contest again—but while he’ll make mistakes, be an erratic and even hesitant scoring threat on occasion, as long as his joie de vivre, to steal a phrase from his first language, remains when he’s on the hardwood, it’s hard to take issue with the results.