Joakim Noah's tallying up a ton of mileage on less-than-durable wheels and it's beginning to show.
The Bulls are the only team with three players in the top 15 in the NBA in minutes per game -- Luol Deng (39.2, 3rd), Derrick Rose (38.8, 8th), and Joakim Noah (37.2, 15th) -- Sam Smith noted Wednesday at Bulls.com.
Noah's production has gone down to 12.3 PPG and 8.3 RPG since the Circus Trip, he added -- well below his November numbers of 15.5 PPG and 12.5 RPG. Most notably, against the Magic last Wednesday, there was his first zero-rebound performance since playing five minutes in a December 2008 game and his first game of the season without scoring in double figures Monday against the Thunder.
The six-point game on Monday was largely due to only 21 minutes of playing time, being in foul trouble and eventually fouling out. It was the second consecutive game in which he fouled out, despite only having five fouls once in the six games prior.
In the opening halves, Noah's come out slower and weaker than his counterparts:
- Nov. 26: Denver center Nenê dropped ten points in the first quarter of 98-97 Bulls loss. Noah finished the game very well, but with five fouls and giving up the interior in teh first was crucial to Denver building a large lead.
- Nov. 27: Noah had only eight rebounds -- two offensive -- in a game with 92 total missed shots. The Kings' four-man frontcourt rotation scored 49 points and grabbed 26 rebounds in the Bulls 96-85 win, where Suxcramento scored 57 in the first half.
- Dec. 1: Dwight Howard pushed Noah around for eight points in the first quarter of a game where Noah grabbed zero rebounds, was called for four fouls, and the Bulls were out-rebounded 41-21.
- Dec. 3: Kevin Garnett finished the half with 16 points and 11 rebounds in 20 minutes. Shaq had nine points of his own in that half of the Bulls 104-92 loss.
- Dec. 4: Brad Miller came off the bench and dropped 20 points, largely in part to going 4-for-8 on threes in which Noah didn't close out on contesting the shot. The Bulls blew a 14-point lead in regulation and needed OT to win 119-116. Noah had four fouls for much of the fourth quarter and fouled out in OT.
- Dec. 6: Noah fouled out, getting seated early in almost every quarter because of foul trouble. In his 6:29 of playing time in the first quarter, Oklahoma City center Nenad Krstic scored eight points on Noah in the Bulls 99-90 win. Noah would score a season-low six points.
Coming into this streak of six games, Noah had double-doubles in ten of the previous 13 games. He's only had three since.
Noah missed over a month of action last season because of plantar fascitis -- an injury that never fully goes away, in that, once you've shown to be susceptible, you're prone to getting it, especially if you're heavily active on your feet. It's time to scale down Noah's minutes, Smith added:
It's true that Noah's shocking zero-rebound game against Orlando in
25 minutes skews the December stats. But Noah has generally been lacking
the dominant rebound games he was having before as he's barely gotten
into double figures. Granted, that's terrific and there aren't many
double figure rebounders in the NBA.
But it is a decline for Noah, who even during the seven-game grueling
Western Conference road trip averaged more than 13 rebounds per game.
Although he doesn't play nearly as much and is no offensive threat,
Omer Asik on many levels has been a more effective interior help
So one question is whether the load of playing time is becoming too
much. It probably makes sense to give Asik some more time for now,
perhaps trot out Kurt Thomas some and pair Boozer with Taj Gibson more
Noah's career average in three seasons is 24.8 minutes per game. He
is just 25, but not quite the brawny physical specimen. He played his
most last season, averaging 30 minutes per game, though missing 18 games
with plantar fasciitis. This season, Noah is up almost 25 percent in
time played over his high of last season.
I agree it was important for the Bulls to get off to a good start and
Noah has been terrific, one of the best centers in the NBA in the early
season. But the Bulls may have to be a bit more judicious in his use
and with whom given the goal always of finishing strong.
Because the last thing the Bulls want is a Noah who sucks... air.
Smith noted that Taj Gibson was the power forward over Carlos Boozer for much of the OT period against the Rockets for defensive reasons. I figured it was because Boozer and Noah both had five fouls, but Coach Tom Thibodeau's very frank comments proved my speculation wrong.
Smith has to be a little nuts to in any way accept Thomas on the floor for anything but garbage minutes. With Taj on the floor against most centers in the NBA -- who are awful -- Boozer is a fine center for a short shift when the Bulls can't sacrifice the offense of playing Asik with Taj. Of course, as the Bulls find Asik more at the rim on the pick n' roll, this shouldn't be much of a problem. Even moreso, Asik is a stopper that combined with speed prevents scoring in ways that can create easy buckets in transition.
Including Wednesday's game in Cleveland, the Bulls have ten games on the schedule for December against legitimately bad teams. I said in my preview of the matchup with the Cavs that the Bulls should blow them out. This is not just because good teams are supposed to blow out awful teams often, but because a lot of players are racking up too much mileage because of close games and the need to come back from early- and mid-game deficits.
In other words, the Bulls ought to begin execting efficiently enough so Noah doesn't have to play 43:53 and 47:26 against the now 4-11 Kings and 7-13 Rockets, respectively.