Joakim Noah had arguably the second-best opening night of any player in the league, scoring 23 points to go with 10 rebounds, five blocks, three steals and three rebounds. Can he maintain that kind of production for a season, though? Can he be a true offensive threat?
During the preseason Noah averaged 10.4 points a game in just 27 minutes. Combining that with opening night's performance, he's averaged about 15 points per 36 minutes. Granted, that's preseason games and a single regular-season game, but it suggest that 15 points a game or more is possible.
if you consider that Noah worked out with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who is only the NBA's all-time leading scorer, during the offseason to develop his offense, it becomes even plausible, especially when you factor in that it was Abdul-Jabbar who initiated the workouts.
Note this from the Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley:
So when legendary NBA center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar reached out to Noah this offseason to work out with him, the 6-11 Noah jumped at the opportunity.
‘‘I feel a lot more polished offensively,’’ Noah said. ‘‘I worked with Kareem for a couple of weeks, but just because I worked with Kareem doesn’t mean I’m going to be throwing skyhooks from everywhere. I feel like I learned a lot from him, someone who has an unbelievable knowledge for the game and very interesting guy.
Two things jump out. First, it was that Abdul-Jabbar reached out Noah, not the other way around, which is the way these things normally go. That suggests Kareem saw something in Noah's game and thought he could help. That is different than someone calling Hakeem Olajuwon and asking for help in their post game.
Second, Noah wasn't learning a gimmick. He was learning to play offense and to think offensively from someone who really does have "an unbelievable knowledge for the game."
So, since the preseason started, it's been worth observing to see if there's any changes in Noah's game that suggest he could have a major uptick in scoring. It might be up and down but there are three areas where he has improved and that should add points to his game.
There are two things that Noah already does well, but he's doing more. Those are transition offense and getting points off of offensive rebounds.
There are also three developments which are noteworthy. He's more active in the half-court offense, he's developed a "mini-hook" shot and he's getting to the line. All those things together suggest that adding five points a game is not at all outrageous.
It's possible that no center in the league runs the floor as well as Noah. Whether he has the ball in his hands or not, he runs like gazelle and has surprising skill. Sure, it looks a bit awkward. You can't argue with the results, though.
There were two plays in the opening game where Noah led the break and another where he finished it when Noah was a critical force in the fast-break game.
The Offensive Rebound
Joakim Noah's bread and butter is the offensive rebound. In the opening game he scored three tip-in shots, missed on a fourth, and on his fifth offensive rebound he went back up and scored a layup. That's eight points off of missed shots or eight points instead of lost possessions.
While he was grabbing the ball off the offensive glass last year, he wasn't as focused on tipping it in. While he had 247 rebounds last year, he only attempted 136 field goals on those according to Synergy. He was more likely to tip it out to his teammates than to try and tip it into the cylinder.
Just looking to tip the ball in instead of out, Noah could add an extra field goal per game.
The Half-Court Offense
One aspect of the game where Noah has been more or less underutilized is in the half-court offense, at least as player whom plays are designed for. Another aspect of his game that is seeing signs of improvement is here.
Noah is not waiting for the ball to be shot or just passing it out when he gets it; he's looking to shoot the ball, in particular, near the rim.
Noah has been exploring a new shot which, while it didn't go in in the first game, he looks surprisingly comfortable with it. Both shots were good shots and were taken in the rhythm of the offense; they just didn't go in.
It is easy to see him taking, and even making, more of these in the future. Last year he only made 20 hook shots all season. This season he could average making one of those per game.
Probably the most eye-popping number from Noah in the Bulls' opening game is that he was 11-of-12 from the charity stripe. That tied a career high for makes and was tied for the second most he's ever attempted.
Once again this was due to his increased aggressiveness in getting to the rim. Noah is more athletic than most bigs and, even against a player like DeMarcus Cousins, he was able to use that speed to not only create shots, but also create contact and get free throws.
It is not at all difficult to see Noah getting another field goal per game from trying to tip in shots instead of tipping them out—another from the Bulls pushing the basketball up the court in transition, another from his increased role in the half-court offense and still a couple of more trips to the line.
Even if we cut all those in half it's not hard to find another five points per game for Joakim. Averaging 15 points per game is a conservative estimate and it's not impossible that he could push that number up to around 17 or 18.
If he does that maintaining his usual stellar defense, it's a distinct possibility that Noah will make his first appearance on the All-NBA team this year.