Plenty of love today for the community at Blog-a-Bull, led yesterday by user tyger1147 (and, as always, Matt the Bullsblogger himself). The good folks over there held Joakim Noah Appreciation Day, and though late to the party, I can't resist the opportunity to jump aboard.
For all the questions about this guy coming out of college at Florida and all the turmoil that marked his first few months as a pro, it is nothing short of a pleasure to see the beginnings of what could be a very productive professional career and even more of a pleasure to see a fan base embracing the eccentric big man.
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Coming from one of the most balanced and well-coached college teams in recent memory, Noah didn't get a whole lot of love as an individual achiever headed into the 2007 draft. There were knocks on his lacking offensive game (viable) and his eccentricity (also viable). There were more knocks when the Bulls drafted him with the ninth pick, with some fans and pundits alike espousing the belief that Noah added nothing new to a Bulls team already full of defense-and-hustle guys. At the time, that sentiment seemed fairly understandable as well.
Ultimately, the sad part is that the last knock has been made a moot point more by virtue of the fact that the players whose strengths Noah was expected to replicate (ahem, Ben Wallace) largely didn't perform while in Bulls uniforms this season. The issues on the offensive end remain. The Bulls were in need of a dominant post scorer last summer, and that need has yet to be filled. Also, if we never saw Noah's ugly two-handed style foul shot again, it would be one lifetime too soon. As far as the eccentricity is concerned, Noah is a goofy dude with a tendency to talk back. He was infamously involved in a blow-up with his coaches that got him suspended by his teammates earlier in the season, and chances are, he could have done without disrespecting the coaching staff.
So this comes as no 'in-your-face' to the doubters. The rookie from Florida undoubtedly has his share of flaws.
But what makes him lovable is how significantly those flaws are outweighed by everything else he brings to the table.
Joakim Noah isn't an scoring force, but he is a true big man. He understands that his primary roles are those of defense and rebounding, and he has done a respectable job in both of those roles this season, especially as a rookie whose minutes have fluctuated. The Bulls have been more than six points per 100 possessions better defensively with Noah on the floor than off it this season, and he has pulled down nearly eight rebounds per game in 14 starts. He moves fluidly on the defensive end, crashes the boards hard and challenges every shot, but most importantly, he provides an energy unrivaled by most of his peers in the league.
On the basketball court, Noah is nothing short of a Tasmanian devil. Those cliched intangibles that we basketball folk love to wax poetic about? Noah has all of them. He cares. He plays like he has to have every loose ball. He has to make stops. His team has to perform. That is the feeling one gets watching Joakim Noah play. The man is diving on the floor, jumping into the stands, sacrificing his body with abandon and doing anything else he needs to do to give his team a lift. He waves his hands. He screams. His thrill is visible when he experiences success, and he keeps working as diligently as possible when he doesn't. It is clear that this is the type of guy who can't stand the type of season the Bulls have been having. He craves success and is more than willing to work for it. The outbursts and the back-talking to the coaches are more a product of this than anything else. That doesn't excuse the behavior, but in a league becoming increasingly stigmatized for being full of players who can't be bothered, there is something strangely refreshing about a player whose flaws are a result of just how much he really does care.
Yes, Noah needs to do his best to channel that caring into being as focused as possible and to maintain the necessary respect for those around him. Undoubtedly, the tardiness issues that have long plagued himare going to need to go. But word from Hicag is that he has made some progress in those areas and that he seems to have become more focused as the season has progressed. He has certainly demonstrated himself as a player with the ability to lead and one who wants to be there, who wants to be in the thick of it in Chicago, who wants to be part of making his team a winner.
It doesn't hurt either that Noah's speech is as refined off the court as his play is ugly on it. He has shown himself to be a man of depth beyond the basketball court, talking freely about his admiration for athletes who found ways to make a difference outside the realm of their sports as well. This is a man with a limber mind, one that is constantly working both inside the lines and out. He is also a man who is exactly what we pine for our athletes to be with more regularity -- genuine. Regardless of what you, I or anybody else thinks of him, Joakim Noah will always be Joakim Noah. There is plenty to be said for that.
Sure, when all is said and done, Joakim Noah is no superstar, and there is a good chance he never will be. Currently, he is an NBA rookie averaging less than six points and six rebounds per game and with some off-court drama already on his record.
But even in the midst of a bleak season, he has also prevailed through the obstacles to become the young heart and soul of the Chicago Bulls in a wonderfully enjoyable manner.
We have no metric that can adequately explain the value of that achievement.
And we don't need one.
Keep hustlin', JoNo. Even from afar, you are a joy to watch.