Previous ArticlesRose game winner beats Knicks in homecoming
Bulls ready to take their shot at the 76ers
by Sam Smith
Posted on Nov 1
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The Bulls now pretty much know their No. 1 guy is healthy and ready to go, Derrick Rose making his points most dramatically Friday with a fantastic running shot to beat the Knicks with 5.7 seconds remaining.
But as the Bulls Saturday are in Philadelphia to play one of the remaining two undefeated teams in the Eastern Conference, the concern is about All-Star No. 2, Joakim Noah.
“Jo’s got his game coming along,” said Rose, who perhaps is not quite all the way back shooting 28.9 percent.
But he is shooting.
“Jo made some great plays (against the Knicks),” Rose continued. “Great passes. He’s just got to get comfortable enough to make that jump shot with his ability to pass the ball. He’s got to shoot his shots to be a threat out there in the mid range.”
The principal concern about Noah, as it often is, involves health. He experienced a groin strain in training camp and played in just one of the eight exhibition games.
So Noah was held to about 20 minutes in the opener against the Heat Tuesday. But he played about 36 minutes Friday in the win over New York. The hope is the groin issues are past and he’s ready for regular minutes against the 2-0 76ers.
But as he’s worked his way back into the games, Noah has eschewed shooting the ball. He’s taken one jump shot in the two games, and it was an air ball miss.
It’s not that the Bulls rely on Noah for scoring.
But in the team’s offense, Noah needs to be a threat.
He’d become a viable threat the past two seasons with an improving jump shot, shooting a career high 75.1 percent last season on free throws. Noah averaged a career high 11.9 points last season to go along with his 11.1 rebounds per game last season.
It’s obviously early in the season, but Noah is averaging just four points on three of 11 shooting in the two games.
Though the issue is less what he’s averaging than how many he is taking.
It’s important for Noah to at least be a threat and attempt his shot because he so often sets the screen for Rose. Plus, Noah is the Bulls best passing big man and likes to play out of the high post to run offense or have it go through him.
The Bulls poor outside shooting has been an issue the first two games with the team shooting 41.5 percent overall and 23.8 percent on threes.
Rose’s field goal percentage is low. But one reason is defenses are packing in the lane as the Bulls cannot draw the defenders out with shooting. So with Noah so uncertain of his shot he’s avoiding shooting even when defenders play six feet off, it further clogs up the area near the basket and forces the Bulls to take more outside shots.
It’s why the Bulls have tried to push the ball more, which they’ve done some with Rose for 31 fast break points in two games, which is good for them.
But then when teams take care of the ball better or get back more quickly, the Bulls get stuck in a half court game. If defenders don’t have to react to the screeners like Noah not looking for offense, the Bulls get in situations with the clock running out and forcing up shots.
It’s not that Rose isn’t shooting well as much as he’s had to take so many difficult shots, in part, because Noah has been a reluctant shooter. Jimmy Butler, new to shooting guard, also has had to push himself to take the perimeter shot. And Luol Deng is off to a slow start with his shot, just one of nine on threes. So defenses have been able to blanket Rose and make his attempts that much more difficult.
“We know we have to get better (on offense),” said Noah after Friday’s win. “A better rhythm offensively; we know it’s going to happen. We missed a lot of shots we’re going to make later on in the year. Familiarity, just knowing what we are trying to get out of the offense. Even though I played with Derrick a while, Booz, Lu, you are trying to figure what we are trying to get offensively. You usually get that in the preseason, but I wasn’t able to play in the preseason
“Against the better teams you can’t score on your first option,” said Noah. “You have to score on your third, fourth options and we feel we’re not there yet. We’re still a work in progress.”
But even if you aren’t scoring, you need to be a threat to make the defense react. And Noah knows he’s not looking for his shot as often as he needs to do for the offense to function properly.
“I think sometimes I over pass,” Noah acknowledged. “I think I have to do better job of reading the defense and being ready to drive. I know I work really hard on my game every day. I feel in every aspect I’m trying to be the best player I can. I’m not happy where I’m at. I work too hard at my game to not be confident doing anything.
“I shot an air ball (Friday). So I’m not in position to talk about it (his confidence and shooting),” Noah said. “But if I’m open I’m going to shoot the ball.”
It’s the direction Noah constantly hears from his teammates, which is why Rose was not hesitant to encourage Noah after the dramatic victory.
A case obviously can be made for the importance of Deng as the glue that holds the team together, as coach Tom Thibodeau likes to call Deng. And the post scoring of Carlos Boozer. But after Rose, probably the team’s most vital player has to be Noah.
Obviously because of his defensive presence and rebounding, the latter terrific thus far at 13 per game in about 28 minutes.
But with Nazr Mohammed the only true backup center, the Bulls are thin at center. It’s not a devastating concern given so many teams play small. Mohammed could only play about 10 minutes combined in the two games because the Heat and Knicks used so many small lineups.
Thus the Bulls can use combinations with Boozer and Taj Gibson and one or the other with Deng.
But Noah is the key figure in the team’s defense not only because of his size and rebounding but his ability to switch on pick and rolls and defend smaller players. It’s rare for a center in the history of the game.
It’s an important X-factor in the Bulls defensive scheme. And Noah will be tested again Saturday against the 76ers as Philadelphia center Spencer Hawes has been instrumental in the 76ers’ two wins stepping out to shoot three pointers. That would again limit Mohammed’s presence.
Plus, Noah has a remarkable ability to produce at the most important times in big games. Plus, his enthusiasm is a point of leadership with the team. But it’s also another reason why he cannot be as uncertain as he has been, why he must make himself a threat. Because it also adds motivation to his efforts.
“I feel a lot better physically,” Noah said late Friday night. “There’s still a lot of areas I feel I can play better. I feel it’s going to come. We have a lot of work to do, but the good thing is we have a group that we think is going to do it.”