Defensive Player: Do-it-all Joakim Noah

By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com


VIDEO: Joakim Noah is a nominee for April’s Kia Eastern Conference Player of the Month

My choice for Kia Defensive Player of the Year does not lead the NBA in rebounding, blocks, steals — any of the categories that for years were traditionally cited when considering the best defensive players in the NBA.

That said, it is easy to defend the choice of Joakim Noah as Defensive Player of the Year because he’s been the linchpin defender for a team that ranks as one of the best in the NBA. This selection was influenced in many ways by the always-unreliable eye test: Noah looks like he defends harder than anyone else, reading the opponents plays, heartily embracing the challenge of stopping whichever player he is asked to defend each night, clapping his hands, using defense to fuel his intensity.

Considering what they have been through this season — losing Derrick Rose to injury, trading away Luol Deng; the Bulls have basically held this season together with twine and strategically placed scotch tape — the Bulls have needed Noah like never before. And Noah has been the straw that stirs the drink. As Houston coach Kevin McHale said about Noah a few weeks back, “He should be defensive player of the year. He’s done a great job with these guys. They’ve been winning a lot just on his energy and effort, his kind of determination and toughness. Those are all qualities everybody appreciates.”

These are also all qualities that aren’t easily quantifiable. So just to make sure my eyes weren’t lying to me, I checked with our stat guru John Schuhmann to see if the numbers matched my brain. I asked Schuh for a few advanced stats that needed to be considered when selecting the best defensive player. John initially mentioned team defense: As of today, the Bulls have the second-best defensive rating in the NBA, at 97.8. John also mentioned looking at the plus/minus numbers for the players I was considering. The Bulls are +4 when Noah’s on the court, and -3.6 when he’s off the court.

Finally, John said, to measure the effect of a big, look at how they defend at the rim: Noah ranks 12th in the NBA. Noah also has shattered his career high in rebounds with 877 total, which includes (as of today) 600 defensive boards; his previous season high was 484 defensive rebounds.

What really underscores his value is that Noah is versatile enough to step out and defend stretch fours on the perimeter, while also able to dig in and bang with bigs on the interior. Noah can do almost everything on the defensive end, and if there’s something he can’t do, he doesn’t seem to notice, giving the type of effort that coaches dream about. Noah does all of this with terrific consistency, working his butt off night after night, like a physical manifestation of coach Tom Thibodeau’s raspy verbal exhortations.

• For me, the player who came closest to beating out Noah for this award was Indiana’s Roy Hibbert. Hibbert is probably the NBA’s best rim defender, but his rebounding numbers have plummeted the last few months, and as the Pacers have struggled the last few weeks, particularly on offense, they haven’t been able to look to defense to sustain them.

• Other bigs in the mix for this award? Besides Hibbert and Noah, I also considered DeAndre Jordan, Andrew Bogut, Serge Ibaka, Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol.

• As far as perimeter players go, numbers make a bold case for Andre Iguodala. As Schuhmann pointed out in his Defensive Player of the Year By the Numbers post, with Iggy on the court, Golden State holds opponents to 6.5 fewer points than when he’s not on the court. Iguodala has helped the Warriors become a top-5 defensive team.

Paul George and LeBron James round out my list of best all-around perimeter defenders. As of Monday, George was tied with Noah for the lead in Defensive Win Shares at 6.4.

• Finally, I don’t think his defense will earn him a place among the top five defenders, but if I had to choose a player who I find to be the most fun player to watch play defense, that nod would go to Houston’s Patrick Beverley.

18 Comments

  1. Bob M says:

    Noah is my favorite NBA player. He plays hard and makes big plays at big times. It reminds me of when I started playing ball, if you don’t play D, you don’t run period. Basketball wasn’t “fun,” it was a battle. An addicting battle, a test of manhood, and intensity was how every game was played. Noah is old school, defense first and pressuring other players to get it going. I hope that he wins the award.

  2. Tom Thibodeau says:

    @peSt The rules are simple, be top 8 teams in your conference and you have a shot at gold. I never said the Hawks would win it all but I did say they had an opportunity to win to all. What is silly is trying to change a structure that has been put in place for decades because certain teams “deserve” to be in the playoffs. Teams need to compare teams within there respective conferences because that is ultimately going to determine whether you make the playoffs or not. It’s futile to compare Western and Eastern records because it all becomes irrelevant come playoff time. The fact is, the East has been dominant for years (Bulls in 90s, Celtics/Pistons/Hawks/Sixers in the 80s, Celtics in the 70s and 60s) while the West has been relatively weak (with the exception of the Lakers). Up until 13 years ago, the West has grown deep. Power will shift at times and teams have to adjust. That is what happens in the NBA. Having conferences is good because it creates rivalry. Personally, I really can’t see just 1 regular season winner. To me (and I emphasize me), what your suggesting is like changing the rule book because your team is losing or can’t follow the rules. If your team is weak, then you should blame your GM for putting that kind of quality on the floor. If a team is not good enough to make the 8th spot, they don’t want it that bad. This is the NBA, everyone needs to earn there spot. No one really deserves to make the playoffs.

  3. okc2014 says:

    I agree w/ the article. After losing Rose and Deng, Noah became the tape and glue of the Bulls and defended every play he was asked to. He should win that award hands down. Serge Ibaka 3rd after Deandre Jordan, that Clippers guy..Hibbert ran out of gas.

  4. PeSt says:

    Yeah, “playoff team for me does not mean you are one of the best in the league. It just means you have an opportunity to win it all” – how silly this argument is. You’re saying then that Atlanta definitely can win it all, right? This is ridiculous. The whole PO structure is just wrong. W-L ratio should be considered throughout the entire league. Then, after the best 16 (to me, it should be less than half, 14 max) teams go to a draw, where all the teams would be matched with opponents. A draw is always fair, as there’s no way influencing the luck. In the present form some players with good season ratio (like Suns) don’t make it to the PO, while some others do just because they are localized in a division/conference with even weaker teams. Hence, now making it to the PO doesn’t necessarily mean you were a good team, and this is the point of play-offs, no?

  5. jake s. says:

    I had Roy Hibbert, but Noah is my pick.

  6. onyomed says:

    I’m a heat fan and I hate bulls especially Noah. but damn that man plays defense!!! he got my respect! NOAH FOR DPOY!!

  7. Lucky Star says:

    No issues with Noah as the selection. But Anthony Davis is struggling at everything but shotblocking, and shotblocking is only a small piece. Deandre J has really improved, from what I thought was a minus defender last year to a significant plus this year (much better pick’nroll coverage) but I don’t think he’s improved that much. Howard should be ahead of them.

    That sportvue stat, the FG% allowed at the rim while within 5 feet, is being used as too much of a catch all for defense among centers. It doesn’t take into account preventing attacks on the rim in the first place, which is a major advantage of more mobile bigs, and it doesn’t take into account getting back to contest.

    If Hibbert is drawn away, and a quick attack happens, Hibbert probably can’t get back to the rim quick enough to contest, and so, be counted in that stat. Someone like Noah, if he gets drawn from the rim, has the speed to flash back in and at least make it a little harder. Which results in fewer made shots for the other team, but hurts his percentage, in that he’s making some low percentage contests, which are non-replaceable.

  8. guseryre says:

    Patty Mills and Bellinelli have been two most useful additions. The Spurs are are a better team this year than last year. For the NBA title no team can threathen them but the OKC maybe. hot in http://kkship4biz.com

  9. Jimmy Buckets says:

    Lang for vice prez….under Noah of course

  10. Skolimowski says:

    It should be his second in a row, but at least this year I hope it happens, he’s a true defensive anchor, he sets the tone for his whole team and no one in the league puts so much effort into the little things as him. Noah for DPOY!

  11. Noah is beyond deserving of this award! There is no debate as to who wins DPOY!!!! Noah all day, every day! Check this video Adam Silver: The Poor Man’s David Stern aka The Rigging Master https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xF6bnk9aROw

  12. Chris says:

    “When a team is called a “playoff team” it’s generally implied that they are one of the best teams in the league.”
    I don’t think that is implied as more teams make the playoff than not.
    The format is a joke. 1230 – one THOUSAND two hundred thirty – regular season games are played to eliminate 14 out of 30 teams. Ridiculous!

  13. Mike says:

    I know this has nothing to do with the Joakim Noah… BUT: The Phoenix Suns’ season proves how much of a joke the Eastern conference is. I think the NBA should seriously reconsider its Conference format when a losing team like Atlanta (37-44) can make the playoffs and the Suns (47-34) miss out. When a team is called a “playoff team” it’s generally implied that they are one of the best teams in the league. Sadly, the Hawks will be remembered as a playoff team, and the Suns will not. Is this fair?

    • Michael says:

      Nothing in life is fair. It wasn’t fair when GS missed the playoffs in 07-08 I think with 48 wins. Every year a deserving team or 2 is going to miss out on the playoffs. If they wanted to make it, they shouldn’t have lost to some inferior teams along the way.

    • Tom Thibodeau says:

      At the end of the day, that is the setup and you have to make the best of it with the team you place on the court. This rivalry with the East vs West has been going on for years and is the beat approach in my opinion. To change that would mean we’d have to alter other things like divisions and All Star games as well. Every year, people complain about not making the playoffs but the problem is not the conference structure bracket but the imbalance of talent on teams due to player acquisition through signs or trades. Given that the Suns couldnt earn the 8th spot shows you that the team needs improvement. A playoff team for me does not mean you are one of the best in the league. It just means you have an opportunity to win it all. Being the best is winning it all. No one really remembers the team’s who made the playoffs. Those who have been playing basketball the right way will move on. Luck and talent certainly help but does not always win. Talent does not always win (just look at Pistons/Lakers 2004). Having said that, it’s a shame the Suns weren’t able to make the playoffs because like my Bulls, they werent supposed to make the playoffs this year. The Suns fought hard and it doesn’t go unnoticed. I’ll be rooting for your Suns next year. As for Joakim Noah, great season and Im glad people are giving him the recognition he deserves. Go BULLS!!!

      • Jose Ventura says:

        Coach, you’re the man. I’ve been a life-long Bulls fan since I was a kid in the 80′s… As an educator, I know teaching “heart” goes a long ways.BULLS DON’T TANK!

    • clips city says:

      If you don’t like it don’t watch it mike nobody makes you mike

    • Z for 3 says:

      they would still be battling for the last playoff spot if they didn’t lose to an awful Lakers team a few days prior to the Grizzlies game