Joakim Noah is just a season removed from winning the NBA’s defensive player of the year award and being considered one of the best big men in the league. However, he’s coming off a tough season last year where he struggled on both offense and defense and had his worst statistical season since his sophomore season in the NBA.
Noah complied a line of 7.2 points per game, 9.6 rebounds per game and 1.1 blocks per game in 67 starts for the Bulls, all down from the previous year. He has also been considered one of the better free throw shooting big men in the league throughout his career, but shot a career low 60.3 percent last season, and a career low 44.5 percent from the field.
It’s unfair to say that Pau Gasol was the only reason Noah saw a huge drop off from the previous year, but it is a big reason. It’s not a surprise that Noah’s numbers dipped a little last season. The Bulls offense was no longer running though him and they signed an All-Star power forward to play along him.
However, Noah looked lost on offense. It seemed like he was unsure when he should shoot or pass because Gasol was such a big part of the offense. With Rose missing 31 games last year, the offense ran through Jimmy Butler and Gasol most of the games, not Noah. That left Noah, who plays best with the ball in his hands, out of the loop. Noah’s passing ability is what separates him from other big men and the Bulls weren’t able to use it as much as they had hoped last season.
The Bulls have a luxury that not many other teams have this season. They have five big men that are capable of playing a decent amount of minutes every game. The addition of Bobby Portis allows the Bulls to open up a lot of new lineups and give Joakim Noah, who has dealt with a lot of injuries the past couple of years, more rest. Noah averaged more than 35 minutes per game in two of the previous three seasons. As a result of the heavy workload, Noah had many amount of foot and leg injuries.
Earlier this month, Noah said he is the healthiest he has been in a while, which is a good sign for Bulls fans. That doesn’t mean the lingering injuries, like plantar fasciitis, can’t reappear and if it does, then he could miss significant time once again.
Benching Noah and starting Taj Gibson would finally give Gibson a chance to start like the Bulls had planned in previous years. Gibson was the expected starter before the Bulls traded Carlos Boozer for Pau Gasol last offseason. Gibson still started 17 games last year, due to injuries, in which he averaged 11.8 points per game, 7.8 rebounds per game and 1.8 blocks per game in 33.5 minutes.
Gibson’s numbers as a starter are significantly better than when he comes off the bench. The biggest difference between Gibson as a starter and coming off the bench is his plus-minus. When Gibson is a starter, his plus-minus is +6.7. But, when Gibson comes off the bench, his plus-minus is -0.6.
However, Gibson is coming off ankle surgery, which would suggest he might not get starter minutes right away, but I still think having him play with Gasol from the start would be a good idea. This would allow the Bulls to still have a good two-way big man as a starter and coming off the bench. The limited playing time for Gibson at the start of the year also opens up minutes for rookie Bobby Portis to prove himself to the coaching staff and earn a spot in the rotation.
Gibson has been with the Bulls his whole career and has played with the rest of the starters for at least a couple of years. He would fit right in because he can play off the ball and use his athleticism to get to the basket or get offensive rebounds. Noah also plays off the ball well but is most effective when the offense runs through him.
Noah’s passing ability is a huge advantage that the Bulls need to use. With Aaron Brooks as the Bulls main backup point guard, the Bulls could run their bench offense through Noah and use Brooks as another spot-up shooter and to bring the ball up.
The Bulls also have a lot of shooters coming off the bench like Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic, that could see more open shots with Noah passing it to them. Noah does not have the passing ability of a Chris Paul or Stephen Curry, but having a center that can be a floor general as well, is also nice to have.
A lot of people may see benching Noah as a punishment, but I think it would help the team and help him get back to how good he was a couple of seasons ago. With the addition of Pau Gasol, Jimmy Butler’s emergence and Derrick Rose being healthy again, the Bulls don’t need their offense to run through Noah like it did a couple of seasons ago.
However, having him come off the bench would give him more responsibility and he wouldn’t have to play off the ball as much as he did last year.
Joakim Noah isn’t the type of guy you need to count on offense. He doesn’t have a great post game and isn’t a huge threat shooting the ball when guarded. But, Noah’s a leader in the locker room and having a respected veteran playing with the second team could help an already good bench get even better, not to mention the energy that he could bring off the bench.