How Joakim Noah Can Become a Top-Tier NBA Center
Joakim Noah is easily one of the best defensive centers in the NBA. He's one of the best rebounders. He's one of the hardest workers. There's a lot to love about his play. However, he is not yet a top-tier center because he lacks a go-to offensive game.
He was NBA All-Defense two years ago, so his defense needs no defense.
Noah also finished eighth last season in win shares, which isn't to say that he's the eighth-best player. It's to say that he's not that far off from being considered an elite payer.
The point here is that, apart from scoring, there is not a great deal of difference between Noah and the elite centers in the league. The biggest reason he's not listed with them already is his offense—or lack thereof.
Currently, Noah's offensive game mostly entails creating points out of scraps.
Based on Synergy stats, nearly 35 percent of his field goals last season came either in transition or off of offensive rebounds.
He's also extremely effective cutting to the rim, as his ball-handling ability is exceptional for a center and his athleticism is extraordinary for a seven-footer. He made 63.5 percent of his attempts and averaged 1.25 points per play on cuts. Shots like this are not ordinary plays by seven-foot centers.
In all, offensive rebounds, cut plays and transition baskets accounted for nearly two-thirds of his field goals (63 percent), but they accounted for barely half (52 percent) of his attempts. That's why, based on the Synergy numbers, the Bulls only ran one play for Noah for every 4.57 minutes he was on the court.
The main culprit here is his jump shot, which is affectionately known in the Windy City as "The Tornado." (See what I did there? Windy City and tornado?)
You might say, "But he makes it!" The thing is he doesn't. According to Basketball-Reference.com, he made a mere 37 percent of his jump-shot attempts.
This is not a matter of bad luck or bad selection, either. It's a matter of bad form. While it's nice to know that Noah worked on his hook shot with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (as reported by the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson), it would be nice to hear that he worked on his jump shot, too.
Here is an example of Noah's awful jumper. Forget the fact that he made that particular shot. Concentrate on the form and the fact that Noah is happy that he made it because it so rarely happens.
There are basic elements to a jumper, which are detailed by the acronym "BEEF." It stands for Balance, Eyes, Elbow and Follow-through.
Noah's form is awful. He pretty much does none of these things.
"Balance" means you square your feet to the rim with your shooting-hand foot slightly in front. Noah does not do that. He doesn't square his feet well, and he tends to try to get the lift from his feet, not his legs. Notice how awkward his lift is because he doesn't set himself correctly.
The "Eyes" he does OK. He tends to look at the rim, which is what you're supposed to do (as opposed to watching the ball).
The "Elbow" and "Follow-through" are where he's absolutely horrid. A good jump shot has one hand as a shooting hand and one hand as a guide hand. The shooting hand should be the one that pushes the ball. The guide hand has one job: make sure the ball doesn't fall out of the shooting hand. It "guides" the ball.
The elbow of the shooting hand should be bent to a 90-degree angle to ensure the proper release and to get the proper spin.
These are not NBA things. These are things you learn in junior high. These are basics.
What would Noah's scoring be if he had an average jump shot?
Noah doesn't do that, though. He uses both hands to shoot the ball. As a result, two opposing forces are pushed on the ball at the same time, which is what gives him that weird spin, or "tornado" effect, that is created by his release.
It also doesn't help that his elbow is not raised to the 90-degree angle it should be. As a result, his release point is lower than what it should be and a whopping 10 percent of his jump shots get blocked according to 82Games.com.
In all honesty, Noah's jumper is closer to a rushed "granny shot" than it is to a true jump shot.
It's strange to me that a player who works as hard as Noah does on every other aspect of his game is content to have arguably the worst form in the NBA on his jump shot.
The thing is he still scores 10.2 points per game with almost no plays run for him because his shot is so awful. If he could just add a marginal jumper, it's not hard to imagine him adding two or three field goals per game because plays could be run through him.
While it's not good etiquette in Chicago to say nice things about Carlos Boozer, Noah doesn't need to to travel to Los Angeles to learn a good jump shot. Boozer has one of the best in the league, and that's not a hyperbolic statement.
In fact, Boozer had the second-best mid-range shot in the association last season according to Basketball-Reference.com.
When you watch the "BEEF" elements of Boozer's jumper here, you can see it's not a coincidence. His jumper is textbook. As much as it's popular to say that Boozer doesn't work on his game, you don't get form that consistent without having taken tens of thousands of shots.
If Noah can work with Boozer to the point where he has a jump shot that is at least fundamentally correct, he could create more shot opportunities for himself because the Bulls could run plays through him.
Boozer's high release and perfect from resulted in only three percent of his shots being blocked, according to 82Games.com.
Noah could see a vast decrease in the percentage of his shots that are blocked, an increase in his field-goal percentage and a big bump in the plays that are run for him if he were to work on his jumper.
When you consider his defense, his rebounding and his ability to create something out of nothing, the only thing missing from his game is an ordinary jumper. Adding that would add four to six points per game to his averages, and that is enough to put him into the elite category of centers.
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