How Joakim Noah Is Saving the Chicago Bulls' Season

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistNovember 22, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 17: Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls waits for play to start in the game with the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on November 17, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Clippers won 101-80.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Chicago Bulls are struggling, having lost four of their last five games and falling below .500 for the first time in two years.

Things would be even worse, though, if it weren't for the efforts of their center, Joakim Noah, who is saving them from a catastrophic season. 

Noah, long noted for his outstanding defense, has risen on the offensive side of the court as well, posting career highs in both points, 14.5 per game, and assists, 4.0 per game (as of Nov. 23).

During the Houston Rockets game on Nov. 21, Noah proved just how valuable he really is when he took over the game for a stretch on both sides of court. 

The Rockets were on 10-1 run, the Bulls were missing everything, and they were in danger of falling out of the game. Nate Robinson had just missed a three-point shot, and the ball was on its way to the hands of the waiting Marcus Morris. 

Noah swept in and grabbed the ball, passing it off to Luol Deng. Deng eventually fed Taj Gibson for the easy two, and the tide started to change.

On the other end of the court, he took on Marcus Morris and forced him into a missed shot. When Omer Asik got the offensive board, he altered his shot too. 

Moments later, after a pair of Luol Deng free throws, Noah sank a jumper which brought the Bulls within one. The next two possessions down the court, Noah fed Gibson for two. Then he found Nate Robinson for another bucket. Then Robinson fed Noah for one. 

The Bulls were on a 12-1 run, and Noah had a hand in all but two of the points. 

He was working on the other end too. He blocked an Omer Asik shot and stole the ball from Jeremy Lin. He grabbed a defensive rebound and was anchoring the defense that held the Rockets to only two makes on 14 attempts over the run. 

There are times when Noah seems to ascend to an All-Star level of play.

At such times, the Bulls look like they can play with anyone, even without Derrick Rose. What he does isn't all visible in the box scores. His hockey assists and defensive stops aren't recorded. 

Nothing reveals how much Noah has mattered to the Bulls, though, as do his on/off and rating numbers. When Noah is on the court, the Bulls score 95.4 points per 48 minutes compared to just 84.9 while he sits. 

They shoot 45.2 percent from the field compared to a meager 39.0 percent when he's on the the bench. While they have slightly more rebounds, as you'd expect from their leading rebounder, they also average 6.4 more assists per 48 minutes, an improvement of over 33 percent. 

None of this compares to his impact on defense. While he's on the court, the Bulls surrender a mere 95.2 points per 100 possessions. While he's on the bench, that balloons up to 110.3. Per 48 minutes, the Bulls are 20 points better with Noah on the court. 

Without the much-improved efforts of Noah, things would be even worse than they are now. If he can keep them hovering in the .500 neighborhood, the Bulls can still make a move should Rose return this season.