Joakim Noah: Best Center in the NBA?

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Courtesy of  Jonathan Daniel-Getty Images

Courtesy of Jonathan Daniel-Getty Images

When you look at Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, he is far from your average NBA big man; take a step back and look at his body of work, the stats he’s accumulating, and how he transformed his game into a more versatile center who is capable of recording a triple double any given night.  Arguably, I would have to place him as the top center currently in the NBA.

During Noah’s sophomore year at the University of Florida, he lead his team in points (14.2 ppg) and blocks (2.4 bpg), while ranking second in rebounds (7.1 rpg) behind former Gator teammate and current Atlanta Hawks power forward/center Al Horford.

Noah was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament’s Minneapolis Regional and he helped the Gators not only win the school’s first ever NCAA Basketball Championship, but he and the other starters decided to pass on the 2006 NBA draft to come back to Florida and accomplish back-to-back NCAA Basketball Championship wins.

When Noah declared to enter the 2007 NBA Draft, scouts criticized him for not being a “true” center. They said he was too small and lacked in low-post skills. Also, many people felt his game was one-sided. A dominant force on defense and a liability at best on offense. He demonstrated that he had a winner’s mentality for what he accomplished at the University of Florida, but when it came to his talent translating to the NBA, scouts just generally did not feel he would be the same star in the NBA as he seemed to be in college.

The scout’s profile of Joakim Noah was sound, but look at what Noah has done, not only as an individual (two-time all-star player), but as the heart and soul of the Chicago Bulls right now.  For a team that has once again been playing without their franchise player ( Derrick Rose ) for pretty much the entire season while still managing to hold down a number three seed in the Eastern Conference, is quite impressive.

Yes, you can endow the majority of the praise and credit for the Bulls continued success to head coach Tom Thibodeau. When Rose went down with a torn meniscus in his right knee on November 22nd against the Portland Trailblazers and decided to have season-ending surgery to repair it, Noah took his place as the team leader and star. Behind Noah, the Bulls are 47-32 and have the third best record in the Eastern conference behind the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers.

The attributes that make Joakim Noah a dominant player is his high-energy play, especially on the defensive end. He is a tenacious rebounder on both ends of the floor with versatile offensive skill that many never knew he possessed.  Noah is also a capable ball-handler and passer at the center position.  Even with his abnormal shooting style, he has improved his free-throw shooting and is an effective finisher close to the basket.

Noah is averaging 12.5 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game while shooting  47.7 percent from the field.  He has played in 77 games this season with an average of 35 minutes per game.  How many centers can match that?

I know most people will put Houston Rockets’ Dwight Howard at the top of the list when it comes to current NBA centers and with his overall stats since he has been in the league, there is a legitimate case; but with the guts, stamina, and warrior’s mentality — you have to place Joakim Noah at the same level, if not ahead of Howard.

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