#13 for the Bulls is a player unlike most in the NBA. Every night, whether he’s essentially playing on one foot due to plantar fasciitis or if he’s going out there with flu-like symptoms, he gives the game his all. Joakim Noah is by far the most underappreciated player in the NBA. He’s the type of player that you hate if he’s not on your favorite team. He is a guy that you hate going up against because of the energy, heart, and passion he plays with. He loves getting inside his opponents head. In a game against the Miami Heat, Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers were arguing about a past play, yelling at each other and vocalizing their distress with one another. Joakim Noah went over and stood by them and started clapping and yelling, urging the argument to continue to hopefully break up the chemistry that they had built. He does whatever he can to help his team win, and does it in a fashion not normally seen performed by a center.
Fun Fact: Joakim Noah was named to his first All-Star Game and NBA All-Defensive First Team in 2013.
A normal center wouldn’t have the athletic ability to run the floor with some forwards, hustling down on a fast break opportunity for offense or hustling back to prevent a fast break opportunity on defense. His athletic ability has shown in many instances. Journey back to April 30, 2009. Joakim Noah stole the pass intended for Paul Pierce, and had one thing on his mind: score. He started trudging down the court, dribbling the ball with a mixture of fragility and cautiousness, galloping alongside Paul Pierce. Step by step, Noah was making Bulls fans get on their feet because they did not know what to expect; no one had ever seen Joakim Noah do this before. Within range, Joakim Noah took two more steps and went up with the ball palmed in his massive right hand and slammed it down right over Paul Pierce, giving Pierce his sixth and final foul of the game. Let’s jump ahead to March 4, 2012. Dwyane Wade had the ball and was looking to create space for a fantastic layup, so he bumped into Joakim Noah, sending Noah the opposite way. Due to Noah’s athleticism and size, however, Noah was still able to block Wade’s shot. The Bulls started on a fastbreak the other way, and the Heat forgot all about Joakim Noah running down the middle of the floor (like he does for every fastbreak. Come on, it should be in the scouting report). Eventually, Noah got the ball right in the middle of the paint, and he did a hook slam with his left hand, posterizing Joel Anthony and blowing the roof off of the United Center in the process.
Fun Fact: Joakim Noah was officially named a citizen of France on April 11, 2007. Even though he’s eligible to play for the American or Swedish national teams, he chooses the French team, “The French National Team is something that has definitely been in my dreams for a while now.”
With the eyes of a hawk, Noah is able to make crisp passes that some point-guards can’t even make. Joakim Noah is the best passing center in the game (though Marc Gasol is a close second), and his ability (and willingness) to pass is another factor you have to prepare for when facing him. Now that Noah is starting to develop a decent mid-range shot (though the form is far from decent), his defenders can’t just clog the lane and passing lanes with their gigantic bodies anymore. They have to respect Noah’s ability to hit a 13-16 footer and play up on him. But sometimes, no matter how hard you try to stop Noah, he will somehow find a way to make a play. You can recall an instance against the Raptors where Joakim Noah was fed the ball down in the paint and he had Carlos Boozer wide open under the hoop. Within a split second, he was able to analyze the passing lanes and see where the defenders were before attempting a pass. There were 3 Raptors in the paint, including big bodied Aaron Gray. Noah then did a behind the back bounce pass that ended up directly in Boozer’s hands, which lead to an easy two points.
Fun Fact: Joakim Noah has worked out with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on a couple of occasions. Many suggest that that’s where Noah learned how to do his own version of a “sky hook.”
Ever since entering the NBA, Noah has been an unintentional underdog. Declaring himself for the 2007 NBA Draft, Noah had the reputation of “being a villain,” as he put it. His doubters were saying that he would never be successful in the NBA. According to his doubters, Noah “lacked the height advantage that he had abused in college.” That’s true for nearly any college big man, unless you’re Roy Hibbert. Also, his doubters constantly said that he never displayed the post-presence that is vital for a big man in the NBA to have, and as an undersized center (at least he was coming into the league), his doubters were confident that he would never develop a post-game. Drafting 9th, the Bulls had a decision to make: Go with Noah or a supposedly more refined offensive center from Washington in Spencer Hawes. Bulls fans rejoice, your franchise made the right decision!
Fun Fact: Joakim Noah led the Florida Gators to back-to-back NCAA titles in 2006 and 2007, winning the Most Outstanding Player award in the 2006 Final Four and was named to the 2006 Associated Press All-SEC First Team.
Last year was very rough on Joakim Noah, but he never complained. Everyone knows that Tom Thibodeau plays Joakim Noah a lot, and last year, Noah absolutely needed to play a lot. With the loss of Omer Asik, the Bulls lost their backup big man, a big body to crowd the paint with and an above average rebounder off the bench. Not only did Noah have to pick up what Omer Asik left, Noah also had to sometimes pace the offense of the Bulls with Derrick Rose gone due to the torn ACL. It was not easy, and his body wore down, missing 16 games. Still, he was very effective, and was rewarded with an All-Star appearance. Noah finished 7th among starting centers in free-throw percentage, so “The Tornado” is still effective, no matter what people try and say about it. Noah was 4th among centers in steals, also averaging 2.1 blocks per game. Noah basically did it all, and then some, last year in the games he played. He was the epitome of what you want in an NBA player.
Fun Fact: Joakim Noah recorded two triple-doubles last year (making three for his career). The latter of the two was an unorthodox triple double, however. Noah scored 23 points, grabbed 21 rebounds, and blocked 11 shots en route to a 93-82 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Come playoff time, Noah had missed some games towards the end of the regular season due to plantar fasciitis (a painful inflammatory injury near the plantar fascia in the foot). He was on a minutes restriction the first three games of the Bulls’ series against the Brooklyn Nets. In Game 4, the minutes restriction basically vanished. The Bulls and Nets took it to the limit in a triple OT thriller in which Chicago, due to heroics from Nate Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Noah (who went 39 minutes on one foot, posting 15 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks and a +/- of +11) and others, came out on top. The game knocked Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng out for the rest of the playoffs, and so Noah had to take on an even bigger role in the offense (and defense), pacing the Bulls through the erratic play of Nate Robinson. The Nets pushed the Bulls to the limit, forcing a Game 7. Noah absolutely shined in Game 7, scoring 24 points along with 14 rebounds and 6 humongous blocks, leading the Bulls to a playoff series victory that many didn’t think the Bulls would be able to pull off. While others may have out shined Noah in the series, nobody played with more heart, energy, passion, and tenacity that Noah did.
Fun Fact: Joakim Noah is the only player in NBA history to record a 20-20-10 (points-rebounds-blocks) triple-double while shooting 65% from the field (Hakeem Olajuwon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Elvin Hayes, and Shawn Bradley all record 20-20-10 triple doubles, but they didn’t shoot 65% or better from the field).
Noah is the ultimate underdog, someone who never gets the credit he deserves. He’s a workhorse, and a standard model by which every NBA coach should want their players to perform like (even if he looks like everything but a standard model). If Noah can stay healthy, whatever team he’s on will be able to compete every night, day in and day out. Noah doesn’t get much publicity or media focus, but that’s okay for him. It’s something he’s used to. He likes being the underdog, and he likes proving his doubters wrong time after time.
Prediction: Joakim Noah wins the 2013-14 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award.