CHICAGO – Joakim Noah, excitable guy, grabbed the microphone out of postgame show host Steve Kashul‘s hand. Like the other 22,000-and-change at United Center Thursday, Noah had seen Derrick Rose‘s high-arc 12-footer from the right baseline drop over defenders Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton for the game-winner with 5.7 seconds left.
It was a Hollywood finish – Rose finally back after 18 months, winning it in the Chicago Bulls’ home opener over the New York Knicks – so after Carmelo Anthony‘s jumper and Chandler’s tip missed, Noah didn’t so much do an interview as bond and celebrate with the crowd on an already squirrelly Halloween night.
“Love this [expletive]. Love this [expletive],” Noah said, Kashul fidgeting uncomfortably while the fans roared.
The truth is, Noah does love this bleep and the sooner he and the Bulls sync him up with what the rest of them are doing, the better off they’ll all be.
Rose has won and will win plenty of games for Chicago with late heroics such as Thursday’s. But Noah helps them win, too, in almost every way imaginable, given his versatility at both ends of the floor.
Defensively, he’s a 7-footer with, when healthy, uncanny mobility and a taste for bending his knees and earning stops not unlike his (cough) buddy Kevin Garnett. He sweeps the glass with the best of them (including Chandler, who grabbed 19 and blocked four shots), can close on jump shooters and alter trajectories. and he’s a vocal leader in Chicago’s defensive alignments.
At the other end, Noah moves well, has good hands and is a clever, willing passer. Maybe too willing, occasionally passing up shots conceded to his unorthodox form.
“You saw the plays he made in the first half,” Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said, “running the break, hitting guys for layups and dunks. Obviously his rebounding is tremendous, we need that. His energy. He can switch from 1 through 5, guard five positions. And obviously his presence out there – Joakim is a defensive player of the year candidate every year.”
Noah’s presence out there most definitely is requested by his teammates and coach Tom Thibodeau‘s staff. He missed all but 19 minutes of the preseason after slipping in an early practice and suffering a groin strain.
Those missed preseason games have left him a little out of shape and a lot out of rhythm with the rest of the Bulls. The starting combination Thibodeau has used through two games is brand new, and so far is more parts than whole.
After the loss in Miami and the victory over New York, Chicago is shooting 41.5 percent (23.8 percent from the arc) and has 38 turnovers to 43 assists. Rose was 6-of-22 when he launched his game-winner. Jimmy Butler shot 3-for-11 and Noah made only two of his seven shots.
“We know that we have to get better,” Noah said. It’s going to happen. We missed a lot of shots that we’re going to make later in the year. I think familiarity, just knowing what we’re trying to get out of the offense.
“Even though I played with Derrick for a while, played with Booz for a while, played with Lu [Deng] for a while, just adding Jimmy – [it's] just playing our style and playing together and jelling and trying to figure out exactly what we’re trying to get offensively. Usually you do that in the preseason – I wasn’t able to play in the preseason.”
Noah’s rebounding (26 in two games) is ahead of his scoring (just eight points total), and his passing – Thibodeau considers him something of a point-center – is better still. Noah and Rose, in particular, have a nice chemistry in which the big man can find the super-quick slasher with the ball, or vice versa. For instance, Noah whipped one pass to Rose along the baseline that was stunning in its simplicity and effectiveness.
“I’m comfortable being a playmaker out there, and I also have to pick and choose,” Noah said. “I think sometimes I overpass. I have to do a better job of finding them. Just reading the defense and knowing when I should drive, when to pass, things like that.”
When to shoot, too. Noah unleashed his familiar, twisting “toronado” jump shot at one point against New York and drew nothing but air. There’s only one remedy for that: Shoot it again.
“He’s coming around,” Rose said, grabbing a chance to talk about someone’s game other than his own. “He made some great plays on the ball where he made some great passes. For him, he just has to get comfortable enough to make that jump shot. That’s going to be huge for us if he can knock that down.”
Noah doesn’t flaunt his unorthodox delivery any more than Cyrano flaunted his schnoz, but he has worked hard to improve not just as a shooter but a scorer. So this is more rust, not unlike Rose, given Noah’s 2012-13 numbers: 11.9 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 4.0 apg, 2.0 bpg and 33 double-doubles.
The groin strain healed, his game now is coming back in pieces, Noah said. As the excitement of Rose’s hero moment settled, the Bulls center still sounded peeved with that air ball.
“I know that I work really hard on my game every day and I feel like every aspect of the game, I’m trying to be the best player I can,” Noah said. “I’m not happy with where I’m at. I work too hard to not be comfortable on the court. Doing anything.”