The NBA has had a plethora of talented centers throughout the history of the game. While many share similar traits, very few compare to former Chicago Bulls player Joakim Noah’s unique style of play
While it did take a few seasons to reach his full potential, Noah turned out to be one of the most unique centers the league has ever seen. From the strange jumpshot to his uncanny ability to make plays for his teammates, Noah became the perfect center for the 2010’s Chicago Bulls
As initially projected, Joakim Noah was an elite defender and rebounder that excelled at second-chance buckets. The league, however, would not get to see the sheer impact he would have by doing this, until the 2009-10 season.
Throughout his first two seasons, the young center averaged 6.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.1 blocks, and 0.7 steals on 51.9 percent shooting from the field.
The 2009 playoffs would see a young Noah average a noteworthy 10.1 points, 13.1 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks against an elite second seed Celtics team.
However it was during his third season with a now second-year Derrick Rose, that he began to turn heads. His playoff performance spanned just 7 games the season prior but he proved he could do the same for an entire season.
Noah averaged an impressive 10.7 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.6 blocks, and 0.5 steals on 50.4% shooting from the field in 30.1 minutes per game as the defensive anchor on the team. Furthermore, 3.4 of his 11 rebounds were on the offensive end.
As a now established defensive tank and elite rebounder, Noah would go on to average 10-11 points, and 9-10 rebounds with around 1.5 blocks for his next two seasons. He would continue his notable play in the playoffs and, alongside the growth of an MVP Rose and elite contributions from guys like Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer, would turn the Bulls into a championship contender.
Separation from the traditional center role
Noah is, by default, a unique center in the sense that his tenacity at the time was unmatched and his shot wasn’t the worst despite the never-before-seen form. However, his first five seasons in the league made him fairly comparable to other centers.
Joakim was an elite rebounder and defensive-anchor with a shaky jumpshot that thrived on second chance buckets. He was only really able to define himself as one of the most unique centers of the 21st century when he got to show off his ability to run the offense like a guard.
The 2010-11 Bulls won 16 games in a deep playoff run and the 2011-12 Bulls were poised at reaching the finals with an MVP Rose in full stride and a 62 win roster.
As we all know, Rose suffered a career altering injury in the first game of the postseason and would sit out the entire next season. From this point on, Noah defined himself as a true leader and extremely unique center.
The 2012-13 Chicago Bulls still managed to win 45 games with a few 16 point per game scorers and some depth. The most impressive thing to come out of this season was Noah’s ability to become a secondary, and sometimes even primary, playmaker. He averaged four assists per game that season which was third on the team.
Without an athletic Rose, Noah would often be the one to grab a rebound and go coast-to-coast with a fairly tight handle and quick feet. As the defensive anchor, main rebounder, and now consistent playmaker coupled with his endless tenacity, Noah was the clear leader.
Even when an out-of-stride Derrick Rose returned during the 2013-14 season, Noah maintained that leader status. That season, fans saw just how unique the All-Star really was.
Noah averaged career bests in points, rebounds, and assists. The team had an abundance of depth and an elite-level Luol Deng at his best yet Noah was still the clear leader.
Doing virtually everything, aside from shooting the three, to help his team win, he led the team in rebounds, assists, and blocks that year and showed off his ability to knock down open mid-range shots and handle the ball.
Why Noah was so unique
Let’s make this clear, I’m not arguing that Noah is one of the best centers we’ve ever seen or even of the 21st century. He was a 2-time All-Star and the Defensive Player of the Year as well as the 4th spot in MVP voting for the 2013-14 season. I’m simply saying that Noah was one of the most unique centers in a really beneficial way.
Noah, in some respects, bridged the gap between traditional and modern day centers. He anchored the paint and was the main rebounder for his team like the bigs of the past, but also ran the offense at times and played the role of point guard in the playmaking department.
All-around legendary big men like Hakeem Olajuwon and Chris Webber were able to do virtually everything on the court at a high level, except shoot the three. Unlike Noah, these guys would prove to be elite scorers and lead their team in this category every year but the point still remains.
All three of these players could lead their teams in multiple categories and redefine the true role of a big man. Handling the ball, and making plays while still dominating the glass and the paint is a true rarity.
The modern NBA has seen the likes of talented big men like Karl Towns and Anthony Davis do virtually everything on the floor but sometimes lack the ability to dominate down low or be a consistent playmaker.
Noah is not on the level of guys like Olajuwon, Webber, Davis, or Cousins but his talent, leadership, and unmatched tenacity for his era rank him among the most beneficially unique players to ever play.
Few players have ever been a complete mix of the modern and traditional NBA center and Joakim Noah is one of them.