The Loss of Joakim Noah

The Loss of Joakim Noah

At the start of the year, the Bulls had a 5-man front court log-jam. Nikola Mirotic was supposed to double-up on major success in minimal minutes during his rookie year. Joakim Noah was supposed to overcome his previous year’s knee problems and get back to standard Noah Basketball. Pau Gasol was promised minutes in a starting role and Taj Gibson was coming off an ankle surgery, but likely to re-up on his impact off the bench. But the Bulls have been all over the place this year, and for a time, the quality play of each of their big men was cause for concern. Coach Fred Hoiberg did his best to fiddle with rotations, even trying Mirotic at the 3 (which was a bad idea to begin with, and remained a bad idea) to make room for standout rookie, Bobby Portis.

Eventually, their inconsistencies forced management’s hand. Reportedly looking to add a impactful wing in exchange for one or two of Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson or Noah for some insurance in those thin spots. When the report surfaced, it might have made sense to deal one of them, but now, Noah’s shoulder dislocation makes that impossibly difficult.

Where there were five, now there are four, but that four isn’t all that assuring to begin with. Gasol is aging, fighting injuries and has already made it known that he won’t be staying with the team on his player option for next year. Mirotic is infuriatingly inconsistent and therefore unusable in heavy minutes on a nightly basis. Bobby Portis is a young rookie with promise, but his tendency to be somewhat of a chucker and general inexperience, particularly on the defensive side, strike him from being a major contributor on a team with aspirations for deep playoff run in the foreseeable future.

That leaves Gibson as the only big with experience, (defensive) impact and more than just this year on his contract. That likely makes him the biggest asset to this present team and to others as a trade chip.

At this point, it might go without saying, but with news of Noah’s 4-6 month recovery time, the Bulls went from a team with riches of frontcourt depth to barely enough to survive - and certainly not enough to deal for a wing, unless management’s view on the realistic goals for this season change.

 

The Bulls without Noah

Here’s a look at Noah’s On/Off numbers.

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 2.46.45 PM

Aside from the rebounding and assist numbers, Noah doesn’t seem to make a positive impact on the outcome of a game. But as Mark outlined, much of this has more to do with the players around him rather than his personal output.

Playing the majority of his lineups with Aaron Brooks and E’Twaun Moore isn’t conducive to vastly positive net ratings.

Noah obviously has drawbacks as a player, but he showed steady improvement as he regained his conditioning, health and confidence.

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 2.46.54 PM

Excluding the month of January, during which time his initial shoulder injury derailed his improvements, Noah showed that he was going to continue to get better. With increased confidence, the numbers match the eye test, and his overall production steadily improved. This is absolutely essential for a team with playoff aspirations so that he would potentially be playing his best basketball of the season when it matters most.

What does this mean for the Bulls season?

Some might think it ridiculous to consider a season lost after an injury to a backup center, but Bulls fans know how damaging this injury could be. Through their coaching transition, have lost their identity - their inability to show the Thibsian characteristic of coming to play every night has proven to be problem.  For a team that either wins or loses by 10, either wins 7 in a row and looks like they might be ready to make a run to the Eastern Conference Finals or gets beaten up, shows no interest/energy/motivation and seems to belong in the lottery, Noah symbolizes the only sense of stability.

 

1st week: "blow it up, this #Bulls team sucks". Next week: "We got Cleveland" Week after that: "We're done, blow it up again" #BiPolaBulls

— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) January 17, 2016

 

Losing Noah only exacerbates this.

Noah’s value was never determined by the points he put up or his True Shooting percentage. His production emanated from his all-out effort on a nightly basis and that made him an elite defender and rebounder. But his point-center sensibilities separated him. Even in his reduced role, he remains a top five rebounder per 100 possessions and his assist percentage is atop the league among qualified centers.

Even though he had only been playing 22 minutes per game, Noah’s affinity for the boards is one of the few things on which the Bulls can rely every game. His energy, leadership and unselfish nature help stabilize their downfalls. Losing Noah means that the Bulls will have to search for their identity in different avenues.

Losing Noah doesn't have to mean losing Noah

Noah's injury means that a trade is infinitely more unlikely. It puts pressure on the remaining players to excel because the alternative is to try to find return value for the players currently constructing the roster. Of course, there are ways around this injury signaling the end of Noah's tenure with the Bulls. In spite of the imminent spike in the salary cap, it might make sense for both parties to come to terms. For Noah, signing on a one-year deal would give Noah the chance to prove his health and ability as the starting center again. With Gasol likely opting out of his contract, the starting center position would be available. Signing a one-year deal would also allow Noah to become eligible for ten-year contract bumps after the season, giving him time to sign one more bigger, longer deal for the twilight of his career.

Especially considering the remaining pieces of the "Derrick Rose Era" would still be around - Rose himself and Gibson would each have another year on their contract - bringing back Noah would allow the core to return for one more year before all becoming free agents in 2017, when the salary cap is expected to spike once more (estimated 110 million), at which point even more free agents will be on the market.

After the LeBron James' and Kevin Durant's of the 2016 free agent class, Mike Conley and and Al Horford come to the front, but none of those are likely to join the Bulls. Bringing back Noah another year gives the Bulls one more run before a much more robust 2017 free agency.

While there is still hope for Noah to have a future in a Bulls uniform, his injury forces the present day Bulls into a tough situation. The idea of a trade is now, almost certainly off the table. It also means a formerly deep front court featuring 5 unique players is strained, putting pressure on the remaining players to up their production. Most importantly, the Bulls identity problems will remain for the course of the season if not worsen without Noah.

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  • Even when they had 5 big men, the Bulls had a front court problem. No real 2-way players, not one undeniably legit starter (Gasol probably is though there are those who think he should come off the bench).

    I know it won't happen but at this point I definitely make a trade with an eye towards the future, e.g. trade Gasol for a late first. If there is a taker for Dunleavy, him too.

    Forget trading for a wing unless he's young, under control and with upside -- and who is going to give up that type of player? And if I recall reading on this blog, losing assets for nothing is the worst thing that can ever happen to a team, ever. While that is overstated, what's the point in keeping Gasol any longer? They're not going to win the East, let alone a title.

    I like the idea of bringing Noah back for one more year to go with Rose and Taj. A last hurrah for this group before the Bulls can finally move forward from the Rose-Noah era of injury.

  • Just a reminder from the truly good old days

    The famous(Hue Hollins/Hubert Davis) foul that wasn't from the 94 playoffs

    http://i.cdn.turner.com/dr/nba/teamsites-nbateams/release/bulls/sites/bulls/files/pippen_davis_140520.jpg

    that picture sure makes you wonder how anyone could have called a foul on that play, even if Scottie did touch him on his follow thru.

    As for Noah, nothing but sadness if that is the last image of him in a Bulls uniform. I agree that bringing him back on a one year deal might be the best option for all parties. However, the Bulls should and will explore all other options before settling for/with Noah. If he gets a crazy multi year deal from someone else, you have to let him go.

    Horford, Batum and Conley are the top 3 guys that the Bulls should target, would love to get 2 of them, but we won't have enough cap space. Are any of those guys really worth the new max, $25 plus million per, doesn't feel right to me.

    Most people think that the following summer 2017 will be the bigger/better FA year, so maybe the Bulls should keep their powder dry and go for the bigger splash the following summer when Rose and Taj also come off the books.

  • I am not sure if the Bulls can get any value for any trade at this point. I think they just to drive the season with the current roster and see what they can get next year from free agency and the Sac pick.

  • In reply to BullsDynasty:

    I have to think Gasol still has value to a contending team.

  • For me personally, the Noah injury is quite devastating because he is still my favorite Bulls player. However, while I love the intangibles he brings, I don't think that they are all that important in the playoffs. It is great to have such a "catalyst" in the regular season, but you don't see anyone cruising through the playoffs unless it is a totally lopsided matchup. How much more intensity and effort can Noah really bring to the team if the Bulls go up against the Cavs?

    In theory, Noah is the Bulls best defender and also probably the best rebounder, so that hurts in certain matchups and situations (like last game, when an injured Bogut _destroyed_ Gasol on the offensive glass). But as long as the frontcourt rotation is apparantly being set in stone (in regards to Gasol being the starter, playing starter's minutes, and finishing games), would it really have mattered all that much if Noah wasn't hurt?

    I also agree that bringing back Noah on a 1-year deal would probably be the best way to go, but then you would still need to find another capable center (not Gasol on a 10+ Million per year deal!!!), because you just can not rely on Noah being healthy.
    If the Bulls could somehow get Horford and replace Gasol with him, imo they could be potentially a so much improved team next season. A starting five of Rose, Butler, McDermott (he must learn to not be a trainwreck on defense, but I think he has already improved enough this season that I am at least hopeful that he has it in him), Horford and Noah could be very tough to beat in the playoffs.
    Even if Noah got hurt again, you could play Horford at center and put Gibson or Mirotic next to him.
    Plus the team, including Hoiberg, has another full year to try and develop some chemistry. If Rose and Butler can't learn to play together efficiently, or if Rose does get hurt again, if Hoiberg fails to implement his system, you can still blow it up in 2017 with tons of cap space and Butler, Horford, Portis, Mirotic, McDermott and possibly whatever the Kings pick translates into, as building blocks. I think there are worse preconditions to do a re-build.

  • In reply to Rincewind:

    I think your take on Noah is very insightful because we've seen it play out during the playoffs the way you write it. The old try-hard Bulls, with Noah embodying the try-hardness of the team, were a regular season terror. Yet, when the playoffs rolled around, they were exposed for lack of overall skill and athleticism. Because in the playoffs, EVERYONE would try hard, not just the Bulls, not just Noah and without his effort exceeding everyone else's, Noah would far more like just a guy than an all-star.

    It's a tough year. Everyone is down on the Bulls. The media criticism is daily, "This FO said this was a championship team," is their primary premise, though I don't know why anyone believed that. The people on this site constantly complained about the old Thibs-led, try-hard, defensive-grinding Bulls; now everyone in the media at least misses those good old days of Thibs.

    It goes to show how really hard it is to go from good to great, the hardest step to take in all of sports.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    Exactly, effort alone can only get you so far. But I don't want to complain too much, because I miss those overachieving Bulls teams that went to battle against the Celtics, the Cavs and the Heat, even though they came up short every time. Yes, they weren't talented enough, but everyone was aware of that and they still almost beat the odds.
    That is also the reason why I enjoyed the Mavs Championship so much. Granted I was born and raised in Germany and still live here, and I have followed Dirk Nowitzki's career since he was playing in the second highest German Basketball League. It was such a pleasure to see him finally succeed after all those tough losses he had to go through (also on an international level).
    I envy every Mavs fan for that experience, as I haven't really followed the Bulls until after the 92 Olympics and didn't watch all those defeats against the Pistons before they finally came through. That also truly must have been a great experience as a fan.
    In that regard, the Mavs championship is probably the closest thing that I got to watch. I never thought I could root for another NBA team, but I was totally pumped up for the games and like literally dancing and fist-pumping through my apartment in the middle of the night. Hating Lebron and the Heat also helped. ;)
    But I digress.
    I fully agree, it has been a tough year for the Bulls so far. I still am hopeful that they get their act together and at least play up to their potential (I don't even know what their ceiling could be) come playoff time, but half the season has passed now and Hoiberg has not shown yet, that he can get his players to do what he wants.
    Based on the past two seasons, this team at times seems to be uncoachable. Which is very irritating to me, because the Bulls, for nearly a decade, have been somewhat a poster-child for their willingness to work hard and be very coachable. What the hell happened? It can't be all about losing Deng, can it?

  • Will LeBron ever win another title? I don't think so.

  • GS has it all, the passing, having 5 guys on the court that can score, team defense, the uptempo pace, great passing/spacing. The Front office will have to change up the roster this coming summer. If they start Portis, he needs to play the 4 and they need to get a shotblocking/defensive 5. They also need a small forward that can shoot paired with Butler and a real backup to Derrick. Just bringing back old veterans like Kurt and Dunleavy is on the lazy side for the FO, get creative an change up this roster.

  • Time to clear the dead weight off this roster.......Noah will be ready for Rio this summer.

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