How Joakim Noah Can Emerge as Defensive Player of the Year in 2013-14

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How Joakim Noah Can Emerge as Defensive Player of the Year in 2013-14
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Will Joakim Noah win the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year?

Joakim Noah is unquestionably the emotional leader of the Chicago Bulls. He's also the centerpiece of their gritty defense, which has ranked as one of the NBA's best in recent years.

While he is recognized for his personality and all-around tenacity, how can he take another step and emerge as the Defensive Player of the Year in 2013-14?

Noah arguably had the best statistical season of his career in 2012-13, tallying 11.9 points per game, 11.1 rebounds per game, 4.0 assists per game, 1.2 steals per game and 2.1 blocks per outing.

The defensive efforts—rebounds, steals and blocks—were particularly impressive. The fact that the Bulls also gave up the third fewest points per game (92.9) during 2012-13 also amplifies his value. 

Despite this evidence, Noah did not finish among the top three in the Defensive Player of the Year voting. He came in fourth behind Marc Gasol, LeBron James and Serge Ibaka.

While Noah is clearly regarded as one of the game's best defenders, he must work out a few kinks if he hopes to reign above the rest.

Before we unpack where Noah must implement improvements, let's first highlight how much he means to the Bulls defense by analyzing his strengths.

 

Heart and Hustle

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The primary reason why Noah is invaluable to coach Tom Thibodeau's defensive schemes is his heart and hustle. He brings the intangibles that advanced statistics cannot quantify. 

Noah's aggression and emotion can at times be excessive, but these attributes are truthfully seated at the core of why he's effective. Take away his fire and constant maximum effort, and he's probably a below-average player with size but not much else.

The Bulls fuel off Noah in this manner, and it sets the tone for so much of what they do. 

 

Help-Side Effectiveness

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

A featured area where Noah excels is help defense, where he shows himself in the lane with precise intellect and timing. This is a staple to what the Bulls showcase defensively.

The following screen shot captures an example of this in a Bulls playoff contest against the Brooklyn Nets. Nets guard Joe Johnson, an adept playmaker off the dribble, is looking to create on the wing, but Noah is hovering in the middle of the driving lane.

Notice that Nate Robinson is covering Brook Lopez, Noah's man, while Noah is helping. The options are thus limited for Johnson. Either he can launch a long-range shot off the dribble, skip the ball to inconsistent open shooter Gerald Wallace, or merely swing it to Deron Williams.

Johnson chucked up a contested deep jumper, and it clanked off the rim.

This is where Noah's presence in the lane is instrumental to Chicago's defense. He's always showing in the gap, and in turn he eliminates many dribble drives. 

Noah is especially wise when defending a ball screen. He knows exactly how much time is necessary to show, preventing the dribbler from hoisting a quality look or potentially getting to the rim.

He's also always ready to quickly return to his man if the ball is kicked there. His agile feet surely assist him in this regard.

Here is a screen shot of Noah defending Joe Johnson off a ball screen. Notice how there is little room for Johnson to create anything, and also look at how Noah remains close enough to Lopez where he can recover.

This led to Johnson kicking to Andray Blatche on the other side of the floor. The Bulls were more than content to let Blatche shoot a long two, which he did and it barely hit the rim.

This epitomizes what the Bulls defense does. It forces opponents out of their comfort zone, and it often leads to ill-advised shots or open shots from inefficient shooters.

Perhaps what is most significant about Noah as a help defender is that he can adequately switch onto guards. He is agile enough to stay in front of ultra-quick guards and can also utilize his length to alter their shots off penetrations.

The following video reveals such an instance in a Bulls battle against the Miami Heat.

Noah's defensive skills are on clear display here. Not only does he rotate to Dwyane Wade, but he emphatically swats Wade's attempt. Is there any other center in the league who is this versatile?

Noah is the total package as a help defender, and he is what sparks Chicago's defensive mastery.

He's constantly active. He's seemingly always in the right spot. He simply models everything that Thibodeau desires in their pesky approach.

 

Room for Improvement

Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Noah is the anchor for the Bulls' schemes, but he needs to improve his on-the-ball, post defense before he'll really make a push for the Defensive Player of the Year.

Hear me on this: It's not like Noah is a poor post defender. He's above average. There just remains room for improvement before he really reaches an elite level.

Consider his opponent counterpart per 48 minute production: 16.3 PPG, 13.1 RPG and a PER of 16.5 (82games.com).

Compare his counterpart PER with other notable centers in this chart.

The discrepancy between Noah and other big men in this category isn't vast, but it is still revealing. For him to establish himself as the cream of the crop on defense, he can't lag behind a handful of other centers in such a telling statistic.

As a result, Noah must make it a point to suffocate his specific matchup in convincing fashion. If he can lower his opponent counterpart per 48 minute PER under 15 (like Marc Gasol, the 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year), then Noah's in ideal position to gather the hardware.

This is the specific area where Noah must work out the kinks so he can prove he's deserving. His defense contains very few flaws, so a step in the right direction here could be what elevates Noah to the top.

Another development that could further enhance Noah's case is his defensive plays tally. This statistic, per Hoopdata, accumulates blocks, steals and charges. 

In 2012-13, Noah finished with 3.47 defensive plays per game. This interestingly rated higher than Gasol, but trailed Dwight Howard and Larry Sanders. Noah was about even with Serge Ibaka.

Noah can polish his resume by leading the league in this statistic during 2013-14. This, coupled with a more productive counterpart PER, could be the final addition that results in a well-deserved Defensive Player of the Year accolade.

 

But Can He Stay Healthy and Do This?

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

A potential snag in Noah chasing this award could be a decreased minutes mark. He averaged a career high in minutes per game during 2012-13 (36.8). 

This load could be lessened in 2013-14 due to Noah's bout with plantar fasciitis. He may receive longer periods of rest so his body doesn't wear down.

This is honestly the best decision for Noah's career longevity and the Bulls' long-term success. They need a healthy Noah come the playoffs.

However, this could stunt Noah's run at the Defensive Player of the Year award, because he may see his blocks, steals and defensive play digits dwindle. It could be enough where his overall defensive numbers are no longer overly eye-popping.

Noah is certainly one the game's premier defensive weapons. He is already revered, but a few tweaks could help him garner further attention as the best in the business.

Hopefully this can happen without his health being compromised.

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