20 in 20: Will Noah become an elite center?

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20 in 20: Will Noah become an elite center?

Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010
4:40 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

A historic summer for the NBA has passed and for the Bulls, while they didn't acquire quite the star power many expected andor hoped for, optimism runs high, both within the organization and throughout the team's fan base. With the offseason coming to an end, the time to fully delve into the upcoming NBA season is here. Instead of a traditional season preview, issues both throughout the league and in Chicago will be probed daily here on CSNChicago.com up until the squad officially convenes for training camp toward the end of September.

11. Will Joakim Noah become an elite NBA center this season?

On the cusp of an All-Star berth before plantar fasciitis sidelined him last season, Noah's contribution to the Bulls went far beyond the 10.7 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks he averaged last season. In a nutshell, here's Noah's value: Derrick Rose is the best player on the Bulls; Noah is the most important. Any arguments can be dismissed simply by recalling the team's woeful skid in his absence last season, during which Chicago resembled a bottom-of-the-barrel squad, as opposed to their take-on-all-comers aura with the Florida product in the lineup.

That said, Noah can't yet be quite regarded as an elite--meaning a player more or less guaranteed to not only impact individual games, but dominate them within his realm of control on a nightly basis--center; not yet, at least. The day he gains that status, however, appears to be coming sooner, rather than later.

Noah will never consistently score a boatload of points. Nor will he kill his opponents softly, in a fashion where his stats outstrip his impact. Instead, the inverse is true.

The type of player where a single-digit scoring game doesn't always accurately reflect his impact, Noah gets as excited about taking a charge, fighting for a key rebound, blocking a shot or even a big play by a teammate as he gets about two points of his own. His infectious energy, burning desire to win and ability to remain unrattled under pressure--after winning two national championships in college, his breakout playoff series against Boston in 2009 and facing the scorn of seemingly the entire city of Cleveland, it's safe to say he doesn't get fazed by much--are both endearing and unique, in a league where even some of the most passionate players treat the game as a business.

His physical gifts are more than adequate, although the league possesses plenty of players with comparable size, length and athleticism. The difference with Noah, however, is that not only does he make the most of his 6-foot-11 frame, but he simply outworks his opponents, whether it's running the floor in transition, hustling for loose balls, moving his feet defensively on the perimeter or ekeking out the most of the strength in his spindly frame to fight for position with behemoths in the low post and of course, battling for rebounds on both ends of the floor.

One of the NBA's best rebounders, Noah has an innate ability to anticipate where errant shots will land, coupled with a determination to beat his man to the ball, maximize his wingspan and quick feet and just desire caroms more than anybody else on the court. Defensively, he may not be a shot-blocking force in the mold of a Dwight Howard--although he swats his fair share of shots--but his understanding of help defense, ability to move his feet well enough to defend quicker players on switches and generally protect the rim are severely underated.

But while he gobbles up bushels of boards and is stout on defense, the subtler qualities of Noah's game often go without mention. Described universally as free-spirited, he's earned the respect of teammates with a strong work ethic and leadership by example. He's often credited with being the team's emotional leader, but that almost takes away from his high basketball I.Q., as he frequently takes responsibility for the entire squad defensively, instructing his teammates on where to be in position in anticipation of the opposition's offensive plays.

Yes, Noah is still a work in progress on offense, although his sheer effort and favorable matchups make it possible for him to put up big scoring numbers on occasion. As last season went on, though, his post moves became more effective, and although fans might cringe at the sight of Noah launching his unconventional jumper from 15 feet out, it became an increasingly accurate weapon in his arsenal. His best offensive attribute--which goes hand in hand with his savvy--is his passing ability. Noah's passing isn't quite at the level of former teammate and close friend Brad Miller, but even without being viewed as a major threat from the mid-range area, he's effective in the high-low game as a passer and is a playmaking threat on his occasional coast-to-coast jaunts on fast breaks.

When the Bulls were eliminated from the playoffs in the spring, Noah vowed to come back physically stronger, to better withstand the pounding he takes in the paint from bigger giants in the post. Combined with an improved offensive repertoire, his ascension to one of the league's elite at his position--along with his debut All-Star appearance--should occur in the very near future, especially with defensive-minded new Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau at the helm and the addition of power forward Carlos Boozer alongside him on the block. Now, all he has to do is stay healthy.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls explode offensively to beat Bucks; Blackhawks battle Lightning tonight on CSN

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls explode offensively to beat Bucks; Blackhawks battle Lightning tonight on CSN

Here are some of the top Chicago sports stories from a busy Sunday: 

Tonight on CSN: Blackhawks look to bounce back vs. Lightning

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls show some moxie in road win over Bucks

Today on CSN: White Sox battle Dodgers in spring training game

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

White Sox rookie Charlie Tilson's foot could keep him out until late May

Joe Maddon doesn’t have any concerns about new Cubs closer Wade Davis

Nick Delmonico takes advantage of fresh start with White Sox

Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night

Owners to consider on and off field changes this week during NFL meetings

Honda Road Ahead: Bulls continue playoff push against Cavaliers, Hawks

Honda Road Ahead: Bulls continue playoff push against Cavaliers, Hawks

Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill and Will Perdue break down the Bulls' upcoming schedule in the latest edition of the Bulls Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda dealers.

TNT Bulls are back this week as the team heads into a crucial stretch. 

Currently, the Bulls sit half a game back of the Miami Heat for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, and with just eight games remaining on the schedule, each contest is essentially a must-win. 

So, yes, Thursday would be a great time for Jimmy Butler and company to summon their TNT alter ego. The Bulls have sealed 18 straight victories when playing on TNT Thursday, an improbable feat considering those games are usually reserved for two of the NBA's best. 

To continue that run, they'll have to down Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are also fighting for playoff positioning -- albeit at the top of the conference. Good thing the Bulls have a tendency to get up for big games. 

"The Bulls play up and down to their competition," Bulls Pregame and Postgame analyst Kendall Gill said. "They've been doing that the whole season." 

After Cleveland, the Bulls get set to battle another playoff squad, the Atlanta Hawks. 

Watch the video above to see Schanowski, Gill and Perdue break down the matchups.