Sunday, December 5, 2010

Joakim Noah, Un Grand Nonpareil

Back in the spring of 2006, many observers thought Joakim Noah could be the first pick in the NBA draft if he were to make himself pro-eligible. With the onset of the no-high-school-students rule from the 2005 Collective Bargaining Agreement, the draft pool was unusually weak that year, and Noah's fiery effort in the NCAA tournament made him the most lustrous of gems.

In the event, Noah returned to the University of Florida and waited until the 2007 draft (after collecting his second college championship) to go pro. Noah was selected ninth, after two of his teammates, among others.

Noah is somewhat thin for a center at a listed weight of 232 lbs, but he may be the hardest-working 5 man in the league. After some early struggles, Noah now anchors the Bulls' defense and ranks second in the league in rebounding. Looking back at the 2006 draft, Noah's first opportunity to join the big leagues, is there any player you would rather have than Noah? The top pick, Andrea Bargnani, excels only at one end of the floor, as we demonstrated in a video post last year. The roundly-considered best player from that draft, Brandon Roy, has permanently arthritic knees that are now slowing him and might soon end his career. LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay are nice scorers, but have not yet made an All-Star team. Rajon Rondo is one of the top five point guards in the league and a starter in two NBA Finals, but Noah's enduring hustle probably makes him more valuable than Rondo. Perhaps the early predictions of a #1 selection were right on. Even looking at the 2007 draft, when Noah was actually chosen, outside of Kevin Durant there is no one whom I would prefer to Noah.

We recently had the chance to attend the Bulls-Warriors game in Chicago on November 11th. The Bulls jumped out to an early 30-point lead before the halftime buzzer, rendering our final two quarters a time of seat-hopping and T-shirt chasing. Still, from our high-altitude section, we were able to capture some video showing what makes Noah so great.

I. Noah The Dishman
With time, Noah has become one of the best passing big men in the league. In this clip, Noah gets the ball from Derrick Rose, who cuts to the corner. Golden State's Stephen Curry, defending Rose, loses track of the latter. Noah exchanges a glance with Rose; Rose cuts to the hoop and Noah delivers a perfect bounce pass that Rose collects to slam (two-handedly!) through the hoop.

Observe here as Noah calls for the ball, recognizing that Luol Deng has a mismatch against the same Curry. Noah seems to recognize Deng's opportunity even before Deng sees it. Upon Noah's receipt of the ball, Deng cuts hard to the hoop, receives a sharp pass, dribbles once, and scores.

Generosity is often rewarded. Later in the game, Deng returns the favor with an easy assist pass to Noah:

II. Noah the Hustler

Another of Noah's winning attributes is his willingness to put his body in jeopardy to help the team. Watch the first six seconds of this video as Noah scraps hard with Andris Biedrins for post position:

Here, Noah, all 83 inches of him, hits the floor hard at the 0:06 mark to chase a loose ball:

Finally, consider this video, in which Noah's fleet hands force a steal from Monta Ellis, keying a fast break and an easy basket by Deng:

** Regarding our blog title, we're not sure if "grand" can be used colloquially as a noun in French the same way hoopheads use "big" as a noun in our language, but we'll hope for the best.

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