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Joakim Noah Saves Bulls' Chaotic Season

“I don’t like it,” Noah says. “No, I don’t like it. Because our MVP is not playing. We have one MVP, and that’s Derrick Rose. And it’s not about MVP’s, it’s about rings, and one day I hope that we can get one here.”

- Joakim Noah reaction on fans’ M-V-P chants for him

Noah has never been a man known for gaining recognition as the primary reason for his team’s outstanding play. Quite frankly, Noah isn’t comfortable in that role.

After the Chicago Bulls traded Luol Deng to Cleveland on January 7—in a deal that saved the Bulls $20 million—the Bulls have gone on a 22-11 run, improving to 36-29, good for fourth in the Eastern Conference.

Everyone figured the Bulls’ front office had essentially given up on the season and were gearing up for the upcoming NBA Draft while also saving money. Nobody realized that the Bulls’ most important asset, Tom Thibodeau, had other plans.

With the losses of Rose and Deng, the Bulls had lost two of their primary shot creators on offense. Thibodeau—known for getting the most out of his players—began to use Noah in more high post sets, allowing journeyman players like Mike Dunleavy, Kirk Hinrich,and even D.J. Augustin to revitalize their values. Almost a quarter of Noah’s offensive play is in this set , 20.5 percent, have been used by Noah’s high post game per Synergy. With the evolution of the NBA point guard, it is unprecedented to run so many offensive plays through big men, especially on the high post.

Compared to previous years where Noah’s usage rate never went above 17, his usage rate has shot up to an astounding 18.5 in his breakout year. Noah is the engine that runs in sync with the Bulls; when he falters, so does the entire team.

Averaging a career high of almost five assists per game as a center, Noah has shown the rest of the league how he has become one of the best passing big men. His PER has gradually risen throughout the season to an impressive 20.02.

“He’s the heart and soul of the basketball here,” Gregg Popovich told Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News of Noah. “The thing he does are varied. He doesn’t just rebound. He does a whole lot of things that make him very valuable.”  

Since Thibodeau has been at the helm of the Bulls, the main element that has led to constant success for the Bulls has been their high level of energy and commitment to detail. Noah’s second highest scoring chances are from offensive rebound, which leads to 1.09 points per play per Synergy. Usually when the focal rotation players on a team play with this level of energy, it becomes contagious and trickles down to the rest of the roster. The Bulls rank second in points allowed per 100 possessions at 100.7. Outside of five feet from the rim, opponent shooting drops to 37.4 percent.

Even Dwight Howard’s own coach, Kevin McHale, has endorsed Noah for Defensive Player of Year honors.

“He’s played very well,” McHale tells ESPNChicago reporter Scott Powers. “He should be defensive player of the year. He’s done a great job with these guys. They’ve been winning a lot just on his energy and effort, his kind of determination and toughness. Those are all qualities everybody appreciates.” 

Perhaps the most chaotic season for the Bulls—where injuries and trades defined their season—everyone figured they were left for dead. Noah’s defiance against losing runs in harmony with Thibodeau. In a league that has transformed into the rapid transition style, Thibodeau has somehow made halfcourt offense remain relevant through its tenacious defense. Since the beginning of the New Year, nobody could have predicted the Bulls quick turnaround led by the amazing evolution of Noah's game.

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