Listening to sports radio all week and hearing the discussion of Joakim's return to the court, so many people seem to think that the Bulls are going to lose some spacing with Noah returning to the floor.
This represents a critical misunderstanding how how NBA defenses defend. The same misconception applies to guys like Anthony Parker. No defense in the league honors Kurt Thomas's jumper. No defense says "I need to stay with Thomas, so I'm not going to double Derrick Rose".
This hasn't happened even once.
Thomas only affects the game on offense for as much as he punishes teams for leaving him open. Kurt Thomas makes 3.1 shots per 36 minutes. He shoots a good percentage, but his volume is incredibly low. Team's aren't sticking with Kurt Thomas and opening the floor up, and for the most part, Thomas isn't making them pay for doing so.
Joakim Noah makes 5.1 shots per 36 minutes and scores at a higher TS% than Thomas. More makes, more volume, more efficiency. He's more dangerous on the pick and roll, because you have to defend him going to the basket where he can athletically finish.
He's a better passer, ball handler, and driver, so if you leave him open at the elbow, he can go straight into the paint and score, and if you rotate over on him he'll hit the open man with the pass. So let's nip this idea in the bud that Kurt Thomas really spaces the floor better on offense, simply not true, the Bulls offense is going to get a whole lot better with Noah out there.
On the defensive end, I think Noah will also help the team considerably in certain ways. They'll defend the pick and roll better. He'll rebound the ball better. He'll provide more shot blocking. However, I can't undersell how great a job Thomas did defensively for the Bulls while Noah was out. He played physical and thugged up other teams enough to keep them away from the hoop. He had great hands and had an extraordinary number of clean strips when a guy would bring the ball low in the paint, and his shot blocking, while not wondrous, was far better than I anticipated.
I have nothing bad to say about Kurt and his job in relief of Noah. A+ for him on the season.
The next logical question to ask about Noah's return is which player moves to the bench? The Bulls probably aren't going start going five deep which means that either Asik or Thomas goes to the bench with Noah's return. There's also the possibility that it's a matchup thing with one guy playing a bigger role against some opponents and the other playing against a different type of opponent.
My guess is that Thomas is the one going to the bench. The reason is that the bench right now is a speed / athleticism unit, and it's the unit Asik has been playing with. Our bench has found their grove recently and performed well as a unit, and I don't think Thibodeau disrupts that by putting the slow down Thomas in with the fast unit.
Also, Asik has proven that he's a quality player, and the Bulls need to continue to develop him. He needs the minutes more. I think the team will continue to play better with Asik running with that second unit off the bench and only going to Thomas when they have some big physical matchups that they need him to come in and thug up the court a bit against.
How long will it take Noah to integrate back into the team fully? I'm not sure, but I expect it will only take two or three games. I wish the Bulls had one more game prior to playing their marquee game against the Heat, but I don't think it will take Noah long at all. I, like all of you, can't wait to see what this team finally looks like at full strength.
Welcome back Joakim, and thank you Kurt and Omer for your great work in his absence.