Disregard the Chicago Bulls' struggles as of late. Once you consider the circumstances, the Bulls have performed great throughout the season. The NBA playoffs are a guarantee for them, and they haven't had the services of their best player, Derrick Rose. The Bulls have not done this with smoke and mirrors.
Do the Bulls have trouble scoring? Absolutely they do. Their droughts are noteworthy. If they could put up points with more consistency, the Bulls would have a record better than it stands now. This is where they miss Rose. The Bulls are where they are because of their defensive approach to the game.
Luol Deng is the catalyst for their perimeter defense. The two-time All-Star gets the attention from coaches league-wide. He gets the praise for leading the team to 36 victories, but he is not getting it done alone.
Carlos Boozer is averaging a near double-double, while proving to be a resourceful commodity in the low post.
Nate Robinson is third on the Bulls in scoring.
It also seems that the Bulls may have solidified at least a short-term solution at shooting guard. The emergence of Marco Belinelli makes veteran Richard Hamilton expendable.
Each player gets a fair amount of acclaim, but one keeps it all together.
Joakim Noah deserves more credit than he gets.
Statistically, Noah is witnessing career bests in nearly every major category. This includes 12.1 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 4.1 APG, 2.2 BPG and 1.2 SPG.
The jump in points shows that he is looking to shoot more. His average of 9.9 shot attempts is the highest of his NBA tenure. Noah has seen a decline in his shooting percentage, which is currently at .478.
The fact that he is playing more aggressively on offense means his defender must guard him. This opens up scoring chances for teammates. In addition, the opposing team’s pivot man has to pay attention to Noah. Leaving him open will cost his squad points.
Noah’s maturation is evident each time he has the ball in his hands.
As recent as last year, fans would see a hesitant Noah pondering what he must do when he catches a pass.
The options are simply to shoot, drive to the basket or pass to an open teammate. At times, Noah will show some indecision, but he makes up his mind faster. The Bulls are reaping the benefits.
According to basketball-reference.com Joakim Noah’s assist percentage is 17.8. It is the highest of his career. Noah is one of the best passers from the center position in the last 10 years.
On the other side of the ball, Noah is emerging as a contender for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award.
Most players make highlight reels by blocking shots out of bounds, not Noah. Noah blocks shots and keeps the ball in play. This is key, because it creates fast-break opportunities for a team that needs easy baskets.
Noah deserves more credit because he is the Bulls’ spokesperson.
If a game gets out of hand, he does not decline an interview with a reporter. His answers and assessments of a game are brutally honest.
That's what is frustrating. How are you going to review that one, but you can't review the one two plays before it. ... I just know the refs are doing the best they can in those situations, but it cost us the game today, it's disappointing.
After the loss to the Portland Trailblazers Noah was truthful again (via Aggrey Sam, CSNChicago.com):
It’s tough, man. We’re not playing great right now, so it’s disappointing. It’s the final stretch. We’re not getting it done, so we’ve got to find a way.
Got to give credit where credit is due, but we didn’t execute our game plan very well and that is disappointing. It’s tough right now, it’s disappointing. We’ve just got to stick together and find a way.
Those words reflect the pulse of the team. Spokesperson is a role that Noah has held for the last couple of seasons. While it is something that many of his teammates shy away from, Noah understands its importance.
Someone must step up and take the lead. That requires more face-time with dozens of reporters asking questions, looking for a lead to a story. Noah embraces this.
In a tough season, the Bulls were in dire need of a few heroes. Noah's star has shined the brightest. For that, he deserves a great deal of the credit.