Noah’s Resurging Bulls

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Noah’s Resurging Bulls

(Courtesy of Wikimedia)

(Courtesy of Wikimedia)

(Courtesy of Wikimedia)

(Courtesy of Wikimedia)

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By MATT McCORMACK
STAFF WRITER

(Courtesy of Wikimedia)

(Courtesy of Wikimedia)

When people debate about the best passers in the league, they usually talk about point guards.  Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo and John Wall are just some of the names tossed around as world-class passers.  One name that never comes up is Joakim Noah.  Why would it, right? After all, he is a center known for his gritty rebounding, tenacious defense and dogged determination.  This year, however, Noah has added a new dimension to his game, leading the surprisingly good Chicago Bulls to the top half of the East in the process.

A player who has spent his entire career being defined by the intangibles he brings to the game is starting to earn recognition for his numbers and for good reason, too.  Over his last four games, Noah has had two games with double-digit assists (11 and 14), and both of those games were triple-doubles.  So far in March, he has averaged a whopping eight assists per game.  This season, he is averaging 4.8 assists per game, absolutely destroying his career average of 2.5 per game.  His increased role as facilitator has not undermined the other aspects of his game, however.  In fact, those numbers are also better than ever.  He is averaging 12.0 points per game, obliterating his career average of 9.7 points per game.  Similarly, his average of 11.3 rebounds per game is almost two rebounds higher than his career average of 9.4 per game.  Clearly, Noah brings more to the game than just intangibles.

How has Noah been able to re-define his reputation this season?  Simply put, he has always had the potential to put up these types of numbers.  However, up until this point in his career he has never needed to.  In the last few years, Derrick Rose and Luol Deng have been the Bulls’ main scorers and facilitators.  Noah had the luxury of focusing solely on defense and intangibles.  Now, however, with Rose injured and Deng in Cleveland, Noah has risen to the challenge of taking on the lead role on both offense and defense.  His growing role is clearly seen in his increased minutes per game (34.3 this season, up from his career average of 29.4).

Is it any coincidence that since Deng left for Cleveland and Noah has taken on a larger role, the Bulls have thrived?  When Deng was traded on Jan. 7, the Bulls were 14-18 and mired in the middle of a mediocre pack of Eastern playoff contenders.  Everybody and their mothers thought that the Bulls had given up on this season.  However, just the opposite actually occurred.  Since then, they have gone 20-10 and have separated themselves as one of the upper echelon teams in the Eastern Conference, beating Western powers such as the Spurs, Suns and Warriors along the way.  Noah realized that he needed to carry the team on his back in order for them to succeed, and he has done just that.

A few weeks ago, a Heat-Pacers conference final seemed like a sure thing.  With Noah carrying the Bulls, however, I would not underestimate them.  They could give either one of those powerhouses a run for their money in a seven game series.