Take a look around the NBA landscape and see how many traditional back-to-the-basket big men there are. My guess is you'll be able to count the figure on one hand.
The traditional low-post big man in the NBA is dead. The rise in popularity of “small-ball” and the dearth of offensively talented 7-footers to hit the league has suddenly made a skilled, true NBA center one of the rarest roster commodities.
As the game itself continues to evolve, suddenly the lines between center and power forward have begun to blur. Noticing this change, the NBA chose to address the blurring lines on their All-Star ballot by removing those positions and instead giving fans a chance to vote for frontcourt players instead.
This slight change makes it more difficult for centers to make the All-Star team as players like Joakim Noah are going to grouped up with more productive frontcourt players in the East, such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
Nonetheless, I believe Noah deserves to be an All-Star this year.
But if Thibodeau is the Bulls’ architect, then Noah is the foreman of construction.
Defensively in today’s NBA, centers need to be big and have a strong enough presence in the middle to protect the rim and paint. But they also need to be mobile enough to defend hyper-quick guards in pick-and-roll situations.
Noah excels in both areas. His motor runs uncomfortably hot on every possession as evidenced by his 10 rebounds per game (10th in the NBA). He’s also 10th in the NBA in a stat HoopData.com calls defensive plays (steals + blocks + charges), which is another testament to Noah’s manic activity he treats defensive possessions with.
All of this should come as no shock, however. Noah has long been regarded as one of the NBA’s best defensive centers, if not overall players in the NBA for years. Despite suffering injuries last season, Noah’s defense is back to the level we expected from him.
It’s Noah’s offense this season that has elevated him into the All-Star Game discussion. He's scoring a career-high 14.8 points per game (sixth among Eastern Conference centers), but more importantly than that, it is in the absence of leading playmaker Derrick Rose. Because Noah is such a gifted passer, he is being used as the fulcrum of the Bulls' offense.
Possessing a selfless attitude and a great feel for the game, Noah is able to find cutters, weak-side shooters and high-low opportunities for the other Bulls' bigs. He is also skillful enough to execute whatever pass the situation dictates.
With Rose, a former MVP, on the sidelines, the Bulls could have easily suffered a setback this season. But because of Noah's steady outstanding play on defense and his evolving and improving offensive game, the Bulls remain .500 and a playoff hopeful.
Everything about Joakim Noah from the way he looks to the way he shoots foul shots is unique, but most unique of all is the blend of size, athleticism, energy and talent that Noah brings. He’s leading the Bulls on both ends of the floor and for a team missing its best player, they are performing above expectations.
That’s an All-Star worthy performance.