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Recent stretch helps makes All-Star case for Noah
by Adam Fluck
Posted on Jan 20
Joakim Noah is a big reason why the Bulls have won seven of their last nine games.
And while statistics tell part of the story—Noah has recorded 13.9 points, 14.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.00 blocks and 1.20 steals in 35.8 minutes over his last 10 games—it’s the intangibles that separate him as one of the elite centers in the NBA.
“Look at him,” said Jimmy Butler following Monday’s shootaround when Noah was the last to leave the United Center court, a sight that is not uncommon. “He’s out there working. That’s what he does. It’s so easy to go out there and work whenever you have a leader like that who is constantly trying to make his game better in every aspect.
“As long as he keeps leading us and he keeps working like that,” Butler added, “myself, the young guys, we’re going to follow in his footsteps.”
With NBA All-Star balloting coming to an end Monday night, Noah won’t be among the Eastern Conference frontcourt starters as LeBron James, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony held a sizable lead over the pack as of third returns in late December. But the coaches could select Noah as a reserve when that group is announced a week from Thursday.
Noah certainly has Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau’s support. Thibodeau said this current stretch, in which Noah has grabbed double digit rebounds in 12 straight games, is his best as a pro.
“In 2010, he started off like this, similar, and then he got hurt,” recalled Thibodeau. “That’s when he tore the ligament in his thumb. Right now he’s playing so well on both sides of the ball. And we need it. He’s done a great job.”
Noah made it to his first NBA All-Star Game last season. Earning back-to-back appearances for the Bulls center, one of eight players in the NBA averaging a double-double, would be a deserving accolade, according to Butler.
“I think Jo is more of a team guy, but he deserves to be an All-Star and it would definitely mean a lot to him,” he said. “He deserves it. He’s definitely playing like one.”
Gibson deserving of Sixth Man consideration
With Kobe Bryant sidelined for all except six games this season, other players have had to step up for Los Angeles, in town to face the Bulls on Monday, particularly when it comes to scoring.
Enter Nick Young, who has been the Lakers’ leading scorer this season. Yet he’s done it off the bench, averaging 16.7 points in 40 games, only eight of them starts. It’s that kind of play that typically the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award recognizes.
But as Thibodeau pointed out, Chicago has a pretty good sixth man of its own in Taj Gibson.
“Taj to me is a starter,” said Thibodeau. “He’s had a fantastic year. He can score the ball, he defends, he can play multiple positions; whatever you ask him to do, he does. I think he’s gotten real comfortable in the post. His post game is very, very strong and we can play off that. Now he’s also starting to make plays. He’s reading defenses well and his defense has always been a strength. He’s had a terrific season, so I think he’s deserving of consideration.”
Now in his fifth year in the NBA, Gibson is averaging the following career highs: 11.7 points (9.0 in 2009-10), 1.44 blocks (1.38 in 2012-13), 1.0 assists (0.9 in 2012-13), 28.1 minutes (26.9 in 2009-10) and .703 from the free-throw line (.679 in 2012-13).
On the season, Gibson has posted career highs in points (26), field goals made (11) and free throws made (eight). He has also recorded 23 games with 10 or more points and four games with 20 or more points.
“Taj has a lot of respect in the league because of how hard he plays and because he’s so selfless,” said Thibodeau. “He doesn’t play for himself, he plays for the team. He doesn’t worry about his own individual statistics.”
Thibodeau also pointed to Gibson’s flexibility being an asset, noting he’s proven to be effective whether he’s coming off the bench or in the starting lineup.
“Not many guys can do both as well as he can,” Thibodeau noted. “It doesn’t take him five minutes to warm up. As soon as you put him into the game, the motor is running and he’s flying around.”
Audio—Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau on Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and facing the Lakers (01.20.2014):