October 22, 2015 by Brandon Keller
To win in the NBA, teams need a player to exceed expectations. With that in mind, we look at 2016’s make or break players for each NBA teams.
The phrase “so and so is the heart and soul of this team” is one of the more overused cliches in all of pro sports. Having said that, Joakim Noah is the heart and soul of the Chicago Bulls.
Joakim brings relentless passion and intensity to a Bulls team that in the past has desperately needed it. Year after year, as they limped down the stretch it was Noah (along with departed coach Tom Thibodeau) who simply did not allow the Bulls to go away.
Ever since Derrick Rose fell victim to the unfortunate twists of fate, the Bulls have simultaneously underachieved and overachieved. They go into every season as one of the favorites in the East, start out well, everyone get hurts, then miraculously they would pull it together down the stretch and surprise everyone by putting up a fight in the playoffs. That was not quite the case last season, because Joakim Noah was not quite himself.
Analysis about Noah’s collapse last season is not really needed- the numbers speak for themselves. Noah averaged 7.2 points per game after averaging 12.6 in 2013-14. To put that in perspective, 136 players in the NBA averaged 25.0 or more minutes per game last season. Out of all of those players, Joakim’s 7.2 ppg (in 30.6 minutes) was dead last in the NBA, behind noted scoring machines like Marvin Williams, Tony Allen, PJ Tucker and Solomon Hill.
Aside from the abysmal points output, he also regressed from 2013/14 in nearly every other category, with lower field goal percentage, free throw percentage, free throw attempts, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. It is possible that 2013-14 can look like the outlier in a few years. He was in his prime (29 years old), started a career high 80 games and stayed mostly healthy the entire year. However, it is more likely that last season was just a bad year for Noah in which he struggled through injuries.
The Bulls need Noah. They have a trifecta of talented big men in Taj Gibson, Pau Gasol, and Nikola Mirotic, but each has a very clear limitation. Mirotic is too small to guard lots of PF, Gasol is too slow to anchor a defense and jump out on pick and rolls, and Taj Gibson is too limited offensively. The one guy who brings it all together is Noah. Noah can body up the post up threat when Mirotic is hovering on the perimeter. He can protect the rim when Pau is waddling around. He can facilitate the offense when Taj is doing the dirty work.
It looks like Noah may be coming off the bench, and at this point in his career that may be the best call. Barring a catastrophe of unforeseen proportion, the Bulls should cruise to a playoff spot in the improving but still putrid East. Keeping Noah healthy and having the twitchy and engaged Noah that Chicago fans have come to know and love is more important than him taking the opening tip at center. Come April, if that Noah is ready to play, the Bulls have as good a chance as anyone of winning the East and playing in the Finals.