The 2014 Chicago Bulls entered the All-Star weekend as a definitive enigma. Despite being without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, experiencing a myriad of assorted injuries, starting a point guard who can barely shoot anymore (Kirk Hinrich) and playing in the same division as the NBA’s best team (the Pacers), the Bulls are in solid position to make the playoffs. Bulls fans are still in the process of feeling out this season’s team, but I do have three things we have learned this season.
1. Joakim Noah is good…REALLY good.
I have to admit…I despised Joakim Noah when the Bulls drafted him. As an Ohio State fan, I hated the Florida Gator teams that he propelled to back to back national championships (including one over the Buckeyes). I loathed their outspoken, crazy haired center who scurried around the court like a whirling dervish. I looked at Noah as a fringe NBA prospect who would be dominated by NBA big men, just like he was overwhelmed by Greg Oden in the 2006 National Championship game. Then, John Paxson went and drafted Noah with the ninth pick in the 2007 draft, which led to the infamous draft day picture (which was the antithesis of endearing to the thousands of Bulls fans that questioned Paxson’s sanity after the pick).
But Joakim then arrived on W. Madison Street, and instantly set about doing everything he could to capture the affection of Chicago fans. We started to realize there was a method to Noah’s madness, an inherent ability and drive to become the best basketball version of Joakim possible. Bulls fans (including me) ate up Noah’s knack for epic on and off-court performances .The huge fourth quarter against the Bobcats in January of his rookie season, in which he showcased his eclectic skill set. Noah’s unbelievable interview after a 2010 game against the Cavaliers, in which Noah proclaimed “I have my friends.” The unforgettable Celtics series in the 2010 playoffs, where people began to realize that Noah was more than just a NBA role player (oh, it also led to the gigantic theft and ensuing dunk on Paul Pierce).
Somehow, Joakim has found a way to top all that this year. He has carved out a new role for himself unlike any other player in the NBA, one that far too often goes unnoticed. Everyone talks about the “point forward” position and how effective it can be in the Association- Mr. Noah has created and perfected the “point center” position. When Derrick Rose was shelved again, Tom Thibodeau decided to basically run the offense through Noah. He brings the ball up the floor on fast breaks, creates for teammates from the high post, and gives his fellow big men Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer fantastic looks under the basket and on the baseline. Noah also finds time to anchor the best defense in the league, score when needed and knock down clutch free throws. All in all, the man affectionately known as “Jo” has become a legitimate All-Star and is one of the most irreplaceable players in the league.
2. Tom Thibodeau has ascended into the “Mad Genius” category
I honestly don’t know how he does it. Thibs has such an intense, obsessive desire to win every time his team takes the court that it permeates into his player’s psyche. Some days it seems that the raspy voiced man patrolling the Bulls sideline simply decides “We are going to win this game because…because…because I damn well WANT to win this game.” This man just plows through any distractions, injuries or other nonsense that he is dealt. Below is a short list of what Thibodeau has had to deal with this season:
- Some guy named Derrick Rose got hurt and probably won’t return this season.
- Further assorted and recurrent injuries to Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler, Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah and probably the kid that goes out and buys Thibs Jimmy John’s when he doesn’t leave the United Center for 48 hours
- Luol Deng’s abdication to state of Ohio
- Incessant rumors about Thibodeau having problems with the Bulls’ front office
- Incessant rumors connecting Thibodeau and the Knicks
- Incessant rumors connecting Carmelo Anthony and the Bulls
- Incessant rumors about everything Carlos Boozer
- Integrating a point guard (D.J. Augustin) that had been deemed to be a bust by three other NBA teams and turning him into the floor general of a playoff team
- The inclusion of a ridiculous live DJ (as in disc jockey, not the aforementioned player) at the United Center
Despite all of these things, Thibodeau has set the Bulls up to have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. How does this man not win Coach of the Year annually?
3. Gar Foreman and John Paxson are, in fact, competent at their jobs
I think that we sometimes don’t appreciate how well built this team is. If Thibodeau is the Bulls’ Francis Ford Coppola, Foreman is their Albert S. Ruddy (yes, I had no idea who produced The Godfather either, but it was this Ruddy character). He has put an impressively versatile team together that allows Thibodeau to adapt when encountering the above problems. Foreman and Paxson’s fantastic performance in the draft has earned them accolades in the past, but the D.J. Augustin signing really proved their continuing worth and effectiveness in the front office. The signing was so simple, so practical that it was almost brilliant. While they continue to refuse to quash the rumored problems between them and Thibodeau, Foreman and Pax have done a good job providing their coach with what he values most: hard nosed players that are willing to defend at high levels without the overinflated egos that seem to be the standard in today’s NBA.
Chicago will hopefully learn more about who the 2013-14 Bulls are within the next month- are they contenders to advance past the first round? Will there be further trades? Until then, we can take joy in watching Joakim Noah treat every play tomorrow in the All-Star Game like it is the last one of his life.