Knowing how much he disdains individual attention outside of a team concept—contrasting with his outgoing personality — it was predictable that Joakim Noah tried to deflect praise for his NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.
“This award is a team award. This wouldn’t be possible without my boy Kirk Hinrich, the old man picking up full-court, Thibs being on him every day. Guys like Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, my whole team. I appreciate them for all the adversity that we’ve gone through, to never let up, just keep fighting. I’m just so proud of that and it’s bigger than awards. It’s just something that I’ll never forget throughout all the adversity, being in this position and getting this award,” he explained at his press conference Monday afternoon. “This award is not about me. Even though I get to go home with that weird-looking dude in a stance. It’s not even a great defensive stance. This is about our team.
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Defense helps wins basketball games and being in the locker room after a win with your teammates — and defense isn’t easy either. You have to really commit, sacrifice and I just think about so many plays defensively that some of my teammates made,” Noah went on to say. “You might even think a guy like Mike Dunleavy, who’s not known for his defense, but there was a time during the year when he had a big gash on his head. He had to get 10 stitches in his head, came back in the third quarter and the first play, he takes a charge. He’ll never be remembered, when his career is over, as a defensive player. That means everything, somebody who’s willing to sacrifice his body to win. Those are the things that I’ll never forget.”
A first-team NBA All-Defensive Team selection a year ago, as the anchor of the league’s stingiest defense, Noah is deserving of recognition. However, no less of a defensive savant than Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau observed that Noah’s uniqueness—a dominant rebounder and intimidating shot-blocking presence, his ability to defend smaller players on the perimeter is uncanny — differentiates him from traditional rim-protecting centers like award runners-up Roy Hibbert of division rival Indiana and the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan.
“Yeah, but it’s more than that with him because Jo’s first few years in the league, I was on an opposing bench, so I had to look at him from that perspective and then once I got around him, and I saw how hard he worked and he was much more than a hustle, defensive player, and I saw the time that he’s put in to improve offensively and to grow, it tells me a lot about him and then the people that I’ve talked to, in talking to Billy Donovan and the way he was at Florida, it’s the same thing. He really worked, got better each year and for Jo, the most important thing is winning and for any coach, you enjoy coaching people like that,” the coach told CSNChicago.com. “I think there’s a lot of things. He’s got great feet, balance, quickness, intelligence, the ability to guard more than one position, great stamina and I think that when you can do those things, and the type of effort that he brings every night, those things unite and inspire your team. So that’s where I think you get your best leadership from. I think every year that he’s been in the league, he’s gotten better and better. He’s really grown. I think he’s being recognized now, when you look at his list of accomplishments, where he’s now a two-time All-Star, Defensive Player of the Year. To me, that’s a testament to his will, his determination, his intelligence, his drive and I think he’ll continue to get better. That’s in him. So he’s had a terrific season. I think we’ve faced a lot of adversity this year, and he’s stepped up and done a great job for us.
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“I think the league has changed in the last 10 years or so with more perimeter-skilled players on the floor. When you look back over time, obviously there’s been a lot of great big guys. Some were the Patrick Ewing-type that were at the rim, protecting. Dikembe Mutombo. David Robinson had the type of athleticism Joakim has. Garnett, same thing. But when you look at all the things that Jo brings to the table, I think sometimes it’s hard to measure him statistically because he’s going to score if he needs to score, he’s going to play-make, he’s comfortable away from the basket, he’s a great screener and defensively, he does everything. He’s the eyes of the defense, he communicates it, he has the ability to anticipate and see things, which gives your defense a head start. So he’s earned this,” the coach went on to explain. “And you’re right: he’s a lot more than a hustle — and not to say that’s not important. Jo’s a very talented guy and when you combine that with his will, determination, intelligence, you have something really special because you have a guy who will continue to get better. And the most important thing, I think, is the fact that he’s being recognized for his contributions to winning. We were up against it this year and he stepped up, and he’s helped lead this team past the adversity and we have some more right now, and his grit and determination are invaluable.”
Noah and Thibodeau don’t always see eye to eye, but the pair, despite their very different personalities, can coexist because of their shared will to win, something the All-Star center humorously referenced when thanking the coach in his acceptance speech.
“Of course, Thibs. We’ve definitely had our hard times, our ups and downs, but without your system, this wouldn’t be possible,” Noah said. “Defense helps winning and winning is definitely the most important thing. I remember working out at the Berto Center. Thibs was putting me through a grueling workout and I told him, ‘Thibs, if we weren’t winning, I would really, really hate you.’ And he said, ‘Trust me, Jo: I feel the same way about you.’”