By: Tim Van Duyne
The 2013-14 Chicago Bulls lost former MVP Derrick Rose 10 games into the season due to another injury. The front office traded away its only other star player, Luol Deng, midway through the season. But somehow the Bulls still managed to win 48 games and ended the season as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
So some people may ask how any team could overcome such key loses?
The answer? 2014 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Joakim Noah.
He has been the heart and soul of the team for many seasons, but there hasn’t been a season where that has been more evident than this one. Joakim anchored the number one defense, in terms of points allowed per game (91.8), all season long. No one on the Bulls’ roster played more minutes than Joakim, and no one in the NBA was better defensively while on the floor than Joakim.
Although, if you look at his numbers, nothing really jumps off the page at you. He averaged 7.7 defensive rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals. Solid, but not impressive numbers by any means.
The problem with Joakim’s game is that it, in so many ways, can’t be put on paper. Jo’ affects the opponent’s offense in a number of other ways than just blocked shots and steals.
He’s rarely out of position in Tom Thibodeau’s complex defense that demands the big men to switch just about every guard/forward on-ball screen. Help defense is also a key factor in Thibodeau’s system, and Noah is always able to play the help-side, while still being able to get in good position to make a play on his man.
The other factor that you won’t find in the box score is his intensity. Noah has a motor like few others. Every possession Joakim is working and fighting to get into the best position on both ends of the floor. His hustle so often leads to extra possessions for the Bulls. This non-stop motor is why Noah is able to outperform his opposition night in and night out.
One of the key statistics to look at, is defensive rating, which measures how many points a player allows per 100 possessions he is on the court. Noah had the best defensive rating in the NBA at 95. 8. This is over 10 points better than the league average of 106.7. That’s outstanding.
The other thing Noah does as good as any other big man in the League, is switching off onto smaller guards. He uses his 6’11” frame and his quickness to stay with smaller, faster guards and interrupt their shot with his length. In the video above that I put together, you will see him do this many times. It doesn’t always end in a missed shot or turnover, but he does it enough to where it gets in the head of the competition.
Noah doesn’t do anything great, but he does everything well and that’s why he was able to have his best season as a Bull. He, for much of the season, played the point-center for the Bulls. Noah directed the offense and led the break, while still giving 100 percent on the defensive end.
Joakim has never been the smoothest nor the most fluid NBA player to watch. He’s not a scorer. He’s not a guy that will block every shot. But with his size, strength, quickness and will to win every possession, he has become an elite big man in the NBA.
He simply outworked the rest of the NBA this year on his way to winning his first NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that he became the only other Chicago Bull to win NBA Defensive Player of the year besides Michael Jordan.
Even the fun-loving, free-spirited Joakim Noah wanted to be like Mike.