The Bulls miss Noah most on … offense?
Bulls center Joakim Noah is regarded (derisively in some circles) as a “hustle player” who provides “energy” and “intangibles.” This is fan-speak for saying that a player has limited skills, especially on offense, but makes up for it by trying really hard. If Noah has any obvious skills, most folks would tell you they come at the defensive end, where he skitters around, blocks shots and grabs rebounds.
And yet, in Noah’s 14-game absence to recover from hand surgery, the Bulls’ offense has struggled while their defense has remained stout. Using Hoopdata.com’s points per possession metric (which differs slightly from the one I usually use — on Basketball-Reference), we see Chicago has scored slightly more than 103 points per 100 possessions this season. That’s just about league average.
Since Noah was sidelined, Chicago has hit that mark just six times in 14 games despite an incredibly easy schedule, and it’s come in at 102 points per 100 possessions or worse — the equivalent of a bottom-10 offense — in seven of those 14 games. Toss out one huge outlier — a 121-76 destruction of the Sixers last month — and the Bulls’ offensive numbers without Noah look even worse. Their defense, meanwhile, has shot to the top of the league in points allowed per 100 possessions.
Rose Dwarfs Other Improvements With Defense
Derrick Rose’s ongoing most valuable player campaign is often unfairly boiled down to his superior shooting this season, but Rose’s increased range is far from his most compelling improvement.
To build the case for Rose as the league’s most valuable, begin with his prolific scoring and, yes, his newly minted three-point range. Rose has boosted his production without any cost to his efficiency, and that certainly deserves note. Then point to Rose’s career-high assist numbers (which are strong per game, per minute, and per possession) and his improved rebounding as signs of progress for his overall game. He may be a scorer first and foremost, but Rose’s feel for facilitating his team’s offense has improved immensely over his first two-and-a-half seasons in the league. He isn’t merely a drive-and-kick point guard; Rose scores at an elite level, can penetrate the lane at will, and has legitimate playmaking ability on top of it all. He may lack the pure passing splendor of some of his point guard contemporaries, but Rose nonetheless sets up his teammates for quality looks in increasingly diverse fashion.
All of that makes for a pretty impressive résumé, but neglects the most drastic improvement in Rose’s game this season; whether due to natural evolution, Tom Thibodeau’s tutelage, or his time with the defense-first Team U.S.A., Rose has learned to use his incredible physical gifts more effectively on the defensive end, and has become into one of the league’s most surprisingly effective perimeter defenders.
Rose’s quickness and length (he measured at a 6-8 wingspan in the 2008 Draft Combine) stood out as attributes that could serve him well on defense, but his awareness, effort, and understanding of what constitutes the “right” defensive play seemed to be lacking during his first two seasons. Those aren’t faults of Rose alone, but they were certainly held against his individual standing as a player -– and rightfully so.
Bulls Units Statistically (Click to view charts)
Rose standing tall among NBA elite
Reach out to him, Chicago management had pleaded with Derrick Rose(notes). LeBron doesn’t think you want him here. That’s what they told the Bulls’ franchise star in July, a request that was met with dutiful respect from Rose. Sure, he told the Bulls. I’ll shoot him a text. Rose is polite this way, honoring obligations and orders from above.
Nevertheless, it would change nothing. To LeBron James(notes), the message was unmistakable, sources said: I can take you or leave you – and that could never sell the needy King. William Wesley never did get his wish of LBJ chasing Michael Jordan’s ghosts in Chicago. Dwyane Wade(notes) recruited James relentlessly to Miami, and ultimately had to hand the Heat over to the Royal Pain.
Rose didn’t want LeBron taking the ball out of his hands, nor respect out of the room. Eventually, Rose reached out, but only out of a sense of duty. Rose didn’t want James, nor did Rose particularly want Wade to make a Chicago homecoming. During early July, Rose shut himself in the gym and worked on his game. The soap opera bored him.
“If they wanted to come here, they would’ve come here,” Rose told Yahoo! Sports Saturday night.