Joakim Noah has been playing the best basketball of his career, and as a result he's starting to get some chatter for the All-Star Game, although the votes haven't been forthcoming. Should Joakim Noah be an All-Star?
Noah has some things working for him and some things working against him. He's the type of player that coaches love and fans (outside of the home team) hate, or at the very least, don't appreciate.
Fans' favorite stat, points per game, is not one where Noah excels. He plays with near reckless energy. He gets under opponents' skin with his relentlessness. That, in turn, aggravates fans of other teams. He can be very annoying if he's not on your team. It's a point of pride to him.
He speaks his mind. If there's nothing to do in Cleveland, he's not going to lie. And if he gets the chance to backtrack, he won't. He doesn't hold back when it comes to his real thoughts about Miami either.
These are things you love from a guy that plays for you, but hate about a guy that plays against you. It's not likely that Noah is getting a lot of fan votes outside of Chicago.
Even among centers, Noah only ranks fourth in voting. Kevin Garnett and Chris Bosh, who have changed from power forward to center this year, are ahead of him in voting. Tyson Chandler, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is also ahead of him.
Not that it matters what position they play anyways as the NBA has absconded with the center position in the balloting. It's all frontcourt or backcourt now.
Statistically, Noah dominates among most of the NBA centers, but mostly in the non-scoring categories. He's a grunt. He makes teams work. He's everything that a coach appreciates, which bodes well since the coaches determine who gets on the team after the starting lineups are set.
Furthermore, on the defensive end Noah is generally considered by many, including Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated, to be the front-runner for the Defensive Player of the Year. The Bulls are winning without Derrick Rose, and Noah is a huge part of the reason why. His defense, rebounding, passing and leadership are all huge.
When Noah is on the court the Bulls give up 8.4 fewer points per 100 possessions according to the advanced stats at NBA.com, and it seems like Noah is almost always on the court. He leads all centers in minutes per game.
While fans may not deem him qualified, coaches certainly will. The question is whether he will be deemed more qualified than other qualified candidates.
Assuming there are eight frontcourt players who make the Eastern Conference team, let's take a look at the competition.
There are three starters who will be voted in. According to the latest tallies, those three will be LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett. That leaves five spots open among a smattering of players.
Chris Bosh will absolutely get in, no questions asked. The star power of the Big Three is part of what the All-Star Game is about. That leaves four spots.
Al Horford has arguably been playing the best of any center in the Eastern Conference right now and deserves a spot. While Noah has a good argument with Horford there are two things working against him. First, Atlanta has a better record than the Bulls; and second, when the two faced off, Horford decisively won the head to head.
Give Horford a spot.
Now we're down to three spots. One more spot needs to go to another small forward. That should be between Luol Deng, Paul George, and Paul Pierce. Throw in Josh Smith as a combo-forward as well.
Who is named could actually determine whether Noah gets in (but more on that later).
Pierce might be the most deserving Celtic, but with both Rajon Rondo and Garnett making it on the vote, it becomes problematic for Pierce. It's hard to justify sending three players from a losing team while teams in contention for a division title might send none.
Expect Josh Smith, who was generally regarded as "most slighted" last year to take a spot as a tweener-forward. We're down to two.
Two of the following group, Noah, Tyson Chandler, Brook Lopez, Anderson Varejao, Greg Monroe and the remaining small forwards between Deng, George, Smith and Pierce will fill the last frontcourt spots.
We can dismiss Varejao and Monroe because their teams aren't winning. Cleveland may yet have an All-Star in Kyrie Irving, but it would be hard to justify sending two All-Stars from the Central Division's last-place team and potentially none from what may well be the first-place team (whether it's Chicago or Indiana).
Monroe has been having a solid year, but not solid enough to vindicate putting him in over Noah given defense and team success.
One could debate the merits of team success in naming the All-Star team but it's moot—coaches do. And regardless, it's not like Monroe is having a statistically superior season to Noah anyway.
This leaves us with Noah, Chandler, Lopez and the small forwards vying for two spots. One should go to a small forward and one to a big man.
None of the previously supposed players making the team grabs 10 rebounds per game (though Horford comes close at 9.7). The team needs more rebounding, meaning that Chandler or Noah is likely to make the team.
There are a few reasons both could make an argument over the other. Chandler, an NBA Champion two years ago, and the reigning DPOY, has more "star power" than Noah, and has received more votes from fans.
On the other hand, Noah, who is statistically having a better year, is the front-runner for DPOY this year, and dominated Chandler in their last meeting.
This brings us back to the question of Deng, and whether he gets in for the second time. If Deng doesn't get named it would be hard to deny the Bulls any All-Stars, especially when their frontcourt leads the Eastern Conference in net efficiency according to hoopsstats.com.
It would be hard to justify Noah and Deng getting in, but it would be equally hard to justify neither Noah nor Deng getting in. Sometimes it comes down to which teams deserve players in the game, not which player deserves it the most. Both the Pacers and the Bulls have a pretty fair claim to an All-Star.
With two spots left open and neither team having claimed a spot (because neither is going to get a backcourt player in) one player from each team should get the designation.
This leads us to one of two possibilities. Either Roy Hibbert and Deng get in, or Noah and George get in. The latter is far more palatable, even if Hibbert did get in last year. Hibbert's season this year has not been All-Star worthy.
Based on both play and politics, it seems that Noah finds himself in the All-Star game, but Bulls fans hoping for two All-Stars are likely to be disappointed. Noah's appointment will cost Deng his spot.