Appreciated, respected, treasured, cherished, prized, and loved are all words that can be used to describe how the Chicago Bulls team, organization and fan base feel about their center Joakim Noah. Those words are also synonyms for valuable. As in the National Basketball Association’s Most Valuable Player. The man in the middle for the Bulls is currently a top candidate for the Award and should be thought of more than just a top 5 vote getter, but as someone who could potentially win the whole thing.
There are 3 other big time candidates in this race that should not be overlooked and deserve praise as well, yet they have been receiving such praise the entirety of their careers and will for the remainder of their time in the NBA. Noah is the here and now; He is in his prime while the other three have MVP awards to win in the future, for there to be an argument for him though we need to see how his season has stacked up against these candidates.
Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Blake Griffin were pegged as future superstars before they ever entered the Association. They put up big numbers and have highlight reel plays to go along with those stats every night, this is something Noah doesn’t have. He will never be in the top ten in scoring and his big plays usually consist of him making a stellar effort at going after a loose ball. This does not make him any less valuable statistically speaking.
We know about getting buckets, snatching up boards, dropping dimes, getting rips, rejecting it away from the rim and shooting percentages as the big numbers in basketball, but if you delve a little bit further into the statistics you can find more meaning to what makes a players effort and work valuable to his team. Here is how Noah stacks up against Durant, James and Griffin in the data some may not know about.
First things first, Noah is what people like to call a “high motor guy” which means he puts in more effort than a majority of players, which makes up for his lack of skill and athleticism. This does not mean that he does not have great basketball ability , it just means when compared to the other 3 MVP candidates he has to put in more work to get results. Noah has averaged 34.7 minutes this season which is a good amount of minutes for someone at the center position, however , this is the fewest amount of minutes averaged among the candidates. The next fewest would be Griffin who averages 36.4 minutes and the highest amount would be Durant who averages 38.7 minutes a game. Within Noah’s playing time he travels 2.4 miles, which is the same amount of miles that Griffin puts in during his playing time, which is 1.7 minutes longer than Noah’s time. James also has the same mileage during a game, yet he plays nearly thirty-eight minutes a game. Durant puts in a tenth of a mile more a game than the other three, but it is not as impressive when we know that he is playing four more minutes than Noah. Also if you take into account these stats, not just per game, and look at them per 48 minutes Durant, James and Griffin all put in a solid 3.1 miles traveled throughout 48 minutes, while Noah travels 3.3. One more point on how much effort Noah puts in on the court. Noah travels at an average speed of 4.1 miles during a game, Durant and Griffin a speed of 3.9, James a speed of 3.8 respectively. Noah in short knows that he cannot take plays off for his team to be successful.
When a player is thought of as valuable they are expected to take that buzzer beating shot. Sometimes it is better for a player to show their worth by being the one that their team needs to have the ball in their hands in order to make plays. Noah has the second most touches per game and total touches of the basketball out of the four candidates, just slightly under a touch per game less than Griffin. Noah also gets the ball out of his hands quickly by getting the ball to his teammates, taking an open jumper or getting to the rim. He does not waste time or motion in the game by trying to back down his defender, or trying too many fancy moves. This can be seen by him possessing the ball for only two minutes, which does not even come close to the amount of time James possesses the ball during a game what would be nearly five minutes. Alas, the fact is Noah is not a big time scorer, averaging 12.4 points per game albeit a career high he only averages 0.16 points per touch that is only half of what Griffin averages per touch. The other three are big time scorers and Noah is an opportunity scorer getting points when his opponent allows him too, scoring is just not his forte.
A strong suit of Noah’s is his court vision and innate passing ability. He is able to see cutters going to the basket, he is able to find open three point shooters and also looks for a teammate running with him in a fast break, and he is one of the rarest commodities in basketball, a point center. He is averaging an astounding 5.1 assists at the center position. He not only leads his team in assists, but also all big men as well leading by nearly two assists over the next closest center (Pau Gasol). Out of the four candidates Noah passes the most averaging 64.2 passes per game trying to keep the ball rotating between his teammates and keeping everyone involved. When he has opportunities for assists he makes the most of them, converting on 54.25 percent of his assist chances just a tenth under Durant, nearly a percent better than James and just fewer than 3.5 percent more than Griffin. His ability to set up his teammates to score cannot go unnoticed, his points created by assist per game may look mediocre next to James and Durant, but when taking into account a full 48 minutes Noah averages 16.1 points the same amount as Durant and three and a half points less than James, two of the best passing wing players in the game, Noah is a center he is not supposed to put up those kind of numbers, Durant and James are.
Noah is also an exceptional rebounder, fifth in the NBA at 11.2 boards a game. His strength, desire and rebounding technique allow him to clean the glass on both ends of the court. While averaging 7.7 rebounds on the defensive end , Noah becomes an even bigger threat on offense getting his team 3.5 rebounds helping his team get several second chance opportunities to score. The only other candidate that can compare to Noah in this category is Griffin, and even he can’t measure up with his 9.8 rebounds while averaging 2.6 less per 48 minutes than Noah. Noah will also fight for the ball with 4.7 contested rebounds a game, a stat that is fourth best in the league and he has the third highest contested rebounding percentage of all 15 players that are averaging 10 plus rebounds, with 41.7 percent. When it comes to rebounding offensively and defensively this is the stat that Noah has the edge in among the other candidates for the MVP award.
Defense wins championships and right now Noah is a front runner for the defensive player of the year award as well as the MVP. The only other candidate that has a chance at being named best defender as well as most valuable is James. Many people feel that last year Noah or James could have won for best defensive player before the award went to Marc Gasol. Noah and James both went on to make the All- Defensive First Team.
Noah is the best post defender in the game, he positions his teammates where they need to be, calls out the plays and is the last line of defense when an opposing player drives into the lane and is trying to get a bucket plus he defends the best big men in the league without giving an inch. He leads the second best scoring defense in all of basketball that holds its opponents to just 91.9 points per contest, just two-tenths off of Indiana. James however is the best perimeter defender in the game and probably the best one on one defender as well. He however does not have as much of a responsibility on defense as Noah does. He locks down his man, but is not held accountable for others on defense. He is on a good defense that allows its opponents to score only 98.3 points per game. He also plays with less stress knowing that his team can put up over 100 points a night.
Noah knows that the defense is the reason the team wins. Here are the numbers that shows Noah’s prowess defensively as opposed to the other candidates: Noah is sixth in defensive rebounds per game, Griffin 7.3, Durant 6.9, and James 5.9. Noah is eleventh in blocks per game with 1.57, Durant 0.76, Griffin 0.64 and James 0.33. Those are numbers a center is supposed to be better in, even if the other 3 guys are superior athletes to the naked eye.
Steals are a whole different story however. James is always one of the top steals guys averaging 1.6 this season, while Durant has a reputation for getting into his opponents passing lane as well so for him to average 1.33 steals is what you expect, and Griffin is a freak athlete so for him to average 1.14 steals is no problem. Noah is a different story though, for a nearly seven foot center the way he intercepts passes it is an incredible feat. Averaging 1.20 steals he is able to disrupt plays and create turnovers with his length and energy. All these things combined have given Noah the best defensive rating in the NBA (95.3), and has made him second in defensive win shares (5.6) behind Indiana’s Paul George. These may not factor into Noah winning Most Valuable Player as much as it would Defensive Player of the Year, but it might be time that a defensive minded player that stops his opposition from scoring got just as much recognition as the ones taking all the shots.
There are three players in NBA history that never averaged twenty points, or lead their team in scoring during their MVP seasons two of them winning the award more than once. First, Steve Nash who won the MVP in 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 was seen as the orchestrator of a Phoenix Suns offense that was able to run and gun up the floor like nothing the NBA had ever seen before. His first MVP season he averaged a league leading 11.5 assists, while having great shooting numbers he still only averaged 15.5 points, which made him fourth on his team in scoring. The next year Nash won the award with even better numbers averaging 18.8 points per game and also improved his shooting averages to put him in the 50-40-90 club, yet he was still only the second best scorer on his squad. Nash was always a player that wanted to get his teammates going first.
The next man is Wes Unseld who was the master of the outlet pass. Unseld won the MVP in with the Baltimore Bullets. Despite being a six foot seven inch center, which at this time was still undersized. He was fifth on his team in scoring with 13.8 points per contest and an outstanding 18.2 rebounds as well, which was still only good enough to get him fifth in the NBA in rebounding. It was more unique on what he was able to do with those rebounds, when he was able to snag one and fire it down court like a quarterback hitting a streaking receiver that’s what would help make Unseld both unique and valuable.
The last man has the NBA finals MVP named after him, but could easily have the regular season MVP named after him as well. Bill Russell never finished higher than second in scoring during his MVP seasons with those legendary Boston Celtics teams. His best was 18.9 which earned him second in 61-62, third with 16.9 in 1960-1961, third with 16.8 in 1962-1963, third with 14.1 in 1964-1965, and forth with 16.6 in 1957-1958, respectively. Russell was the embodiment of a winner he did whatever he could do to make sure his team triumphed. He played with intensity and unmatched desire. Joakim Noah is Bill Russell reincarnated. He does what he does just to see the end result of his team succeeding. He does it with passion and raw emotion just like Russell did. That is what made Russell and what makes Noah valuable.
Many believe that the Bulls record will keep Noah from the MVP status as well. They are currently fighting it out for third in the Eastern Conference with the Toronto Raptors and might not be anything more than a second tier team in the east. While the other three candidates play for elite teams and legitimate title contenders. If you take into account the fact that the other three candidates have at least four players on their team other than themselves that have either won major awards been on all-star teams, have been on the first three all-NBA teams, or first two all-defensive teams, (five for James), than we will see that Noah has helped his team more. If we look at the fact that Noah started the season with four big time players around him, then lost two of those teammates, with the season ending injury of Rose and the mid-season trade of Deng, We can see that Noah in every sense of the word has been valuable to his team.
If we really sit down and look at it from every aspect and try to open our mind to what the Most Valuable Player could be , it would be more than the best scorer in the league, or the best player on the best team, or who had the dunk of the night. It should be about who is able to involve their teammates, who shows their determination, who wants it more than the other guy. Who is going to get you the opportunity to take and make the last shot rather than the guy that is going to take it? A team needs a leader in the last moments of the game to make sure that everyone , not just himself, is in position to win the game. Noah is the guy that will leave it all on the floor for every second he is on the court and when he wins it is about the team , and when he loses there is no excuse. That is what makes him adored by Bulls nation and a worthy candidate for the NBA MVP, but I suppose it just depends on how you evaluate value.